Big Data: Benefits, Drawbacks In Addressing Ebola

Norman Rozenberg | Tech Page One | August 20, 2014

An Ebola outbreak showed the importance of public health awareness and meaningful interventions, but big data’s role in this has yet to be seen.

The World Health Organization, along with several presidents of West African nations, announced an intensified response plan to the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on July 31.

Meanwhile, a computer algorithm designed by John Brownstein, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and Clark Freifeld, a research software developer at the Children’s Hospital Informatics Program, had been tracking the Ebola outbreak and had already flagged the worryingly high incidence of the virus nine days prior. HealthMap, an online tool responsible for this discovery, compiles, organizes and creates a visual report of global disease outbreaks. Health application monitors everything from increased tick bites in the Hudson Valley, New York to Malaria outbreaks in Sub-Saharan Africa.

HealthMap aggregates reports from a variety of organizations, including national public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and larger international organizations like the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The application automatically processes thousands of reports and flags them by disease as the data pours in real-time.  Big data does not only add to public health’s information gathering techniques, but it could possibly help officials intervene more effectively...