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February 10, 2016updated 04 Sep 2016 10:23pm

Learning from Ebola to advance healthcare analytics in fight against Zika

News: Sharing of data and more tech input is required to fight diseases.

By James Nunns

The Zika Virus has quickly become a serious threat with cases starting to appear worldwide. The World Health Organisation has recently declared the virus a public health emergency.

The Zika virus is similar to a mild form of dengue fever and is treated by rest, and cannot yet be prevented by drugs or vaccines. There is a possible link between Zika fever and microcephaly in newborn babies by mother-to-child transmission, as well as a stronger one with neurologic conditions in infected adults.

It is believed that the virus could affect four million people over the next year as it spreads, with the third case in the state of Queensland, Australia confirmed today.

To help fight the spread of the disease, big data and analytics could be used in order to track the spread and help contain it.
This idea is something that has been put to good use recently with the spread and containment of the Ebola virus.

Big data and analytics is quickly moving on to the front line as it aids research, with the development of new vaccines and statistical modelling of datasets becoming commonplace.

The kind of data that goes in to combating these viruses includes data from clinical trials, surveillance activities and provider networks and, when combined, can help to predict and combat the spread of disease.

Despite these positives there are questions about the infrastructure to support this kind of analysis. During the Ebola outbreak Orange Telecom in Senegal handed over anonymised voice and text data from 150,000 mobile phones to Flowminder, which is a Swedish organisation that collects, aggregates and analyses various data to map characteristics of vulnerable populations.

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The company used the data to draw up detailed maps of population movements in the region; this gave authorities the ability to see where it would be best to set up treatment facilities and also the most effective way to restrict travel.

However, the problem was that the data was historic and real-time data which would have been a significant help was not available.

Connections between various healthcare organisations, vaccine-makers and other organisations need to be improved in order to effectively gather a much larger pool of data so that more detailed answers can be achieved.

Plenty of tech companies are looking at healthcare as something that they can have an impact on. During an SAP event this week it was said that the company at a board room level is discussing both solving world hunger and also curing cancer.

It should be said that health organisations are quickly learning to connect with each other more effectively, in order to have a more collaborative effort in fighting the spread of potentially deadly diseases.

Healthcare, like the business world, is aiming to embrace the use of data and analytics to create actionable insight that, for healthcare at least, could save lives.

A greater collaborative effort between tech companies and healthcare could help to bring the industry up to speed, using things such as specialised analytics solutions to better connect disparate data sources.

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