The recent Ebola outbreak in Africa has demonstrated the weaknesses of the current global strategy for addressing pandemics, as well as the need for effective, timely, and cost-effective methods of doing so. Some experts believe that the barrier to the widespread application of information technology to pursue public health practice is that so few health professionals have received any formal training in prevention, intervention, and treatment of threats to public health (O’Carroll, 2003.) This paper will discuss the most potentially successful ways of planning for and managing global pandemics, supporting the thesis that new technologies that allow for global surveillance of infectious diseases are the most potentially successful ways of curbing these catastrophic events.
There are many public health challenges caused by infectious diseases because of the modern era that includes international trade, travel, and migration (Fuller, 2010.) Because of the preponderance of the increase in global trade, there has been an rise in infectious diseases that are able to expand their regional impact because of factors including climate change. The traditional ways to collect data about infectious diseases have been slow to identify threats, and because the incubation period of so many infectious diseases extends beyond the time that it takes to go from one place to another, outbreaks of infectious diseases are more common and widespread. Many health systems rely on predictive factors that are mastered by public health professionals who act as an early warning system by observing and reporting unusual clusters of disease symptoms and sudden intensity of diseases (Fuller, 2010.) Resultantly, it has been necessary to develop new technologies and tools for communication so that health care researchers have the ability to more quickly collect and analyze information proactively instead of depending only on analysis that is retrospective in nature. In addition, healthcare professionals have been collaborating creatively in order to successfully coordinate actions in response to epidemics.
In order to address the inadequate infrastructure including computing and communications in many regions in the world, cell phone technology has quickly changed the means of data collection and management, allowing information to be quickly collected and sent to health research professionals. For example, Open Data Kit consists of rapid and accurate open source tools that are much more efficient than paper-based means of data collection and analysis, as well as being less expensive than prior technologies (Fuller, 2010.) Open Data Kit utilizes cellular networks that already exist, and contains features such as GPS systems, video and photographs that provide a more intense and rich data collection than was possible using paper forms. In addition, Geo Chat is an open source technology that utilizes group communications that allow team members in emergency situations to interact, visualize, report, receive, and coordinate data and information. This permits healthcare professionals to address potential pandemics by responding rapidly at early signs of infectious diseases. To add to these technologies are new data mining and visualization methods and technologies to improve aggregate data about symptom clusters and virulent diseases. Finally, cloud computing is another technology that makes it easier to share software and information via computer and other devices globally.
There have been many significant changes in global surveillance of disease, such as the rapid development of new global networks to track infectious diseases in an effort to thwart pandemics. Such networks are providing for the first time on a global scale real-time information about potential outbreaks and epidemics of newly emerging and reemerging infectious diseases (Castillo Salgado, 2010.) These networks provide substantial benefits in themselves, as well as by coordinating multilateral responses of worldwide public health threats with the World Health Organization. It is only through the coordination and collaboration of such public health agencies that global spread of infectious diseases can be contained and ideally, eliminated on a per-disease basis. The Ebola pandemic is a perfect example of what did not happen at an early stage that might have prevented the spread of the disease on a large scale in Africa: early detection, quarantining, treating those affected, and educating the involved populations about how to limit the ravages of the pandemic.
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