Google-boosted data platform Global.health enables new COVID-19 modeling

Developed by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard, Northeastern, Oxford and other academic organizations, the new dataset offers researchers access to more than 5 million anonymized cases from more than 100 countries.
By Mike Miliard
11:33 AM
Developed by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard, Northeastern, Oxford and other academic organizations, the new dataset offers researchers access to more than 5 million anonymized cases from more than 100 countries.

Some of the leading academic health research organizations in the world have built a new online data platform to offer researchers an array of new data tools to help study the COVID-19 pandemic – and hopefully prevent the next one.

WHY IT MATTERS
Global.health is billed as a "first of its kind" new data science initiative by its creators – who hail from Boston Children’s Hospital, Georgetown, Harvard, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Northeastern, Oxford and the University of Washington.

Fueled by those organizations' research expertise and funded in part by Google.org, the web-based data repository is meant to enable easy access to real-time, anonymized line-list data for epidemiological study, modeling and data visualization.

The collaboration between technology developers and public health researchers aims to "build a trusted, detailed, and accurate resource of real-time infectious disease data," according to Global.health.

"As research becomes increasingly data-driven, our understanding of the world around us is only as accurate as the data we have available. We believe in equitable health research that serves communities of all backgrounds. This is why we built Global.health – a platform that brings together outbreak data from diverse communities and makes it available to all, regardless of geographic location or organizational affiliation."

THE LARGER TREND
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the crucial importance of real-time disease surveillance data has been clear.

Even with potential light at the end of the tunnel, with new vaccines being rolled out each day, the simultaneous emergence of contagious new coronavirus variants points to the need for continued vigilance – not just for this ongoing pandemic, but to manage the progression of SARS-CoV2 in the years ahead – and hopefully forestall another potential pandemic.

As COVID-19 becomes endemic, "we’re going to need higher-fidelity systems that are capturing lots of information, ...  informing rapid public health response, identifying new variants and capturing information on their spread,"  Samuel Scarpino, director of Northeastern University’s Emergent Epidemics Lab, told STAT News about the new Global.health platform.

"So the one-to-two-year plan is ensuring that we have the data being captured as we move into the more complicated phase," he added. "Eventually, we’ll go back down into the realm where we’re looking at travel histories, age distributions, and we’re going to be there tracking this the whole time."

He added that, the hope is to be tracking other endemic worldwide diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria in the next five years – and, ideally, to enable easier and more agile response should novel virus variants emerge in spots around the globe.

ON THE RECORD
"By creating a centralized open resource of verified case-level data from around the world, our aim is to accelerate the work of researchers, public health officials and the global community to better prepare for, respond to, and reduce the burden of disease outbreaks," said Global.health creators in a statement on the website.

"We hope that this work will help cultivate a global community invested in improving health outcomes for all through open and secure data sharing."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

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John Fowler deputy information security officer Henry Ford Health System

John Fowler, deputy information security officer at Henry Ford Health System 
(Credit: Henry Ford Health System)

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