Data in the fight against infectious diseases
As the latest Coronavirus outbreak has again demonstrated, governments and health authorities need to act as fast as a disease spreads in order to reduce risks and quell the fears of citizens. Increasing urbanization and the rise in mobility of large populations are making containment all the harder; the ability to act effectively is therefore essential to reduce the risk of an epidemic becoming a pandemic. In the age of social media, alongside the infection itself, recent events have also shown that what can be most dangerous to populations is the spread of misinformation. Without clear, data-driven and transparent decision-making and guidance, ‘fake news’ can spread rapidly, leading to panic, poor decision-making by individuals, and a lack of trust in public authorities.
Clearly, the ability to mobilize the right resources, in the right place and at the right time is a critical requirement for any governmental, healthcare and aid organization. Given this imperative, there is one thing that can outpace any epidemic: data. Effective data sharing and analytics can make all the difference by giving health managers and professionals powerful tools and information about real or potential epidemics. In the case of COVID-19, the World Health Organization has been clear in urging countries to share data in order to halt the spread of the virus.
The City of Vienna for instance has implemented an Epidemic Management System (EMS) to help control the spread of infectious diseases. Since March, it gives doctors, healthcare workers, and nurses a precise overview of today’s epidemiological situation. Such powerful technology platforms can track and trace incident reports in real- time, with use of analytics to understand disease patterns and predict the risk of a disease spreading. Up-to-date information and insight can help those responding to epidemics to coordinate an immediate and targeted response, including critical counter measures such as vaccination programs.
Real-time tracking of diseases ensures there is a clear and up-to-date profile of any specific outbreak, enabling responders to monitor its progress, determine the best actions, assess the results and adjust their strategy as needed to take transparent measures to fight the disease, in collaboration with the necessary stakeholders.
Providing transparent and accurate information to doctors, police, border control and hospitals means that responders can prepare for any increase in admissions, be aware and alert to specific symptoms, and educate and address high risk groups in advance to reduce the risk of uncontrolled spread. This includes planning treatment programs, providing checklists and action plans on a global, regional and local level, and organizing the timely distribution of appropriate vaccine – getting the right people on the ground where they can have maximum impact.
Predicting and preventing
The ability to demonstrate decisive and informed action is also a vital element in managing the behavior of citizens. Providing clear instructions and showing that agencies have a coordinated and carefully planned response can reduce the risk of panic, further helping in the containment process.
Of course, the most effective form of incident management is to prevent an outbreak in the first place. Software can gather and interpret data from previous outbreaks and apply profiling and analysis to predict high risk areas or, in the case of an existing epidemic, provide likely spread patterns. This gives agencies a head start, meaning that they can plan appropriate counter measures and deploy resources on a proactive rather than reactive basis.
Within dense urban populations, epidemics spread very quickly – and in a world where people can cross continents in a matter of hours and circumnavigate the globe in little more than a day, the threat posed by communicable diseases has never been greater.
Meanwhile, as governments and health authorities across the globe fight to contain and then eliminate today's virus, it is critical to leverage the full power of data and find insights of epidemic data analysis.