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Indian researchers develop tool to track disease outbreak

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New Delhi, India: Researchers at the Environmental Health and Biotechnology unit of Loyola College, Chennai, India, developed a web-based GIS application which provides unique IDs and passwords for reporting disease using smart phones, basic mobiles or internet-enabled computers.

This web-based application, which helps online tracking of communicable diseases such as swine flu and dengue at the level of primary health centres (PHCs) and provides the analytics to evolve emergency response and long-term epidemiological strategy, is scheduled to be launched this month in Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu, India.

Speaking to an Indian daily, A. Vincent, professor at Loyola College and lead investigator for the project said, “Initially, the prototype will be on trial at about 50 PHCs in Tiruvallur. Based on the results, the plan is to extend it other districts in the State.” The project is being funded by the Ministry of Communication and IT.

Algorithms will apply spatial attributes to online data for creating colour-coded thematic mapping of epidemiological data down to the level of PHCs and village-wise patterns. Analytics will also be used to profile endemic areas, map the pattern of an outbreak or engage in time series analysis.

On the hardware side, the team has installed a high-end central server designed to aggregate the data inputs from over 1,400 PHCs, district hospitals and Medical Colleges across the State. This would also be linked up with the Directorate of Health Services.

The other key feature is an embedded alarm system, where an SMS alert is automatically generated to the mobile numbers of a few top government officials once the incidence of a particular disease in an area crosses the pre-assigned threshold.

The prototype has incorporated a set of 24 common diseases such as swine flu, chikungunya, dengue and malaria and the threshold level for each has been set in consultation with the State Health Department.

Prof. Vincent observed that the application is robust enough to be integrated into the national healthcare system and also can be harnessed for mapping not just vector-borne diseases but non-communicable and lifestyle diseases as well.

He pointed out that the GIS application has been customised for Indian conditions and specially designed to fit with standard input method for syndromic surveillance of the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project, where field-level health workers report on the S form (suspected), laboratory personnel document observations on the L form and doctors write their conclusions on P form (presumptive).

The web-based GIS application can accelerate the State’s response to a potential outbreak. Presently, field-level reports are despatched to the Public Health Department every week and then fed into the computer much later, resulting in huge delays between the entries on the input form of field staff and the State’s response.

“What this tool does is that it helps a health official assess the disease scenario in any locality on a real-time basis and plan accordingly,” explained Prof. Vincent.

Disease can be reported using smart phones, basic mobiles, Net-enabled computers.

Source: The Hindu