Obama Urges Better Disease Surveillance To Combat Ebola

September 29, 2014 in News

During a global health security summit at the White House on Friday, President Obama urged world leaders to enhance disease surveillance and to treat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as a “national security priority,” United Press International reports (Adamczyk, United Press International, 9/26).

Background on Ebola Outbreak

This year’s Ebola outbreak is the largest and longest ever recorded for the disease, affecting individuals in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria (iHealthBeat, 9/22). According to the World Health Organization, more than 6,500 individuals have been infected with the disease since the outbreak began, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths (AP/Modern Healthcare, 9/27).

As part of the government’s response efforts, CDC has deployed an outbreak-tracking application to field workers, as well as an automated data analysis tool that helps model and predict potential disease transmission (iHealthBeat, 9/22).

Obama’s Comments

Speaking to health and security officials from 44 nations, Obama said world leaders should be able to better detect and contain epidemics (Ferris, The Hill, 9/26). He added, “It is unacceptable if, because of lack of preparedness and planning and global preparation, people are dying” (Shear, New York Times, 9/26).

WHO in 2012 determined that less than 20% of countries were able to manage threats of infectious diseases. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, who attended the meeting, said, “The world is ill-prepared to respond to any severe, sustained and threatening public health emergency” (The Hill, 9/26).

According to presidential aides, the goal of the summit was to convince global officials that natural and manufactured biological threats should be prevented or contained and viewed as threats to national security. U.S. officials said summit participants agreed to work together over the next five years to improve their ability to:

  • Detect diseases early; and
  • Diagnose and quickly respond to virus’ spread.

Obama said that nations with more developed health systems will help countries that need to increase their capacities to handle epidemics (New York Times, 9/26).

Obama also announced that the U.S. would be training up to 500 public health workers and appointing former White House CIO Steven VanRoekel to spearhead the government’s use of technology to combat the Ebola virus (Government Health IT, 9/25).

Researchers, DOD Use Mobile Phone, Social Media Data

In related news, a team of researchers has been working with the Department of Defense to track diseases, such as Ebola, by using data from mobile phones and social media, the International Business Times‘ “Pulse” reports.

The researchers noted that the Ebola-stricken countries lack robust databases and electronic health records that could be used for data analysis. Therefore, Madhav Marathe, director of Virginia Bioinformatics Institute’s Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory, said researchers are leveraging new sources, such as cellphone data and social media, to track and fight the virus.

Marathe said, “You take all this data and build this virtual city, and it allows us to synthesize and fuse multiple data sources to run large-scale simulations.”

Another project being conducted by Marathe’s team, called #HackEbola, allows researchers to compile and analyze data from various local sources and post the digitized data online (Caulderwood, “Pulse,” International Business Times, 9/25).

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