The article emphasizes how data can improve epidemic response, providing real-time information about where a disease is spreading, who’s affected, and what control methods are most effective. In reaction to this, governments and organizations like UNICEF are expanding their informational arsenals to tackle epidemics.
During the Ebola epidemic in 2014, UNICEF began using U-Report, a social messaging tool that asked users for information about their communities and offered information about epidemic response.
“The thing we know about epidemics is that they move fast and they move big, and if we are really trying to deal with a global health crisis the most important tool we have is information,” he said. “During Ebola, if we had had these systems [such as U-Report] in place [before the crisis], we may have been able to know better where to set up our resources, because we work with a finite set of resources.”
At present, with the alarming number of Zika virus spreading through the Americas, UNICEF is partnering with tech firms such as IBM and Amadeus to link mobility and weather data with epidemic responses. With Zika, “we are very much at a preliminary stage,” Fabian said.
“If you look at the arc, it takes a little bit of time to figure out how best to use these systems. We know that having these data sources allows us to be more powerful and effective; we now have a good set of partnerships including with Google, IBM, and Amadeus, and we have requests from our country officers. All this comes together to mean that in the very near future, [we can] be much more efficient,” he said.
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