Big Data may play a key role in impeding the recent outbreak of the Ebola virus according to experts in Data Science.

Jai Vijayan while writing for Information Week explains its the unlikely channels are opening up to fight the spread. WHO’s predictions for this week, of 70% fatality rates and 1,000 new infections per week, comes from data about people who have died from or symptomatic, from facilities across Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Nigeria, collated with data gathered from medical diagnostic facilities and burial grounds in the affected region.

However, disease-monitoring website HealthMap, provides “early detection and real-time surveillance” through information sources, like social media streams, online news stories, official reports, travel sites, and official sources, such as WHO.

Senegal based Orange Telecom is providing Flowminder, a Swedish non-profit organisation, with anonymised data from 150,000 mobile phones to to map out basic population movements in affected areas aiding authorities to draw out strategies for setting up high exposure treatment sites.

Compared to WHO, the other channels provide information from ground zero, which many believe to be more accurate. In-spite of that, the information through these channels is historical, while effective thwarting requires something more real time.

“We’ve never had this large-scale, anonymised mobile phone data before as a species,” says Nuria Oliver, a scientific director at mobile phone company Telefonica. “The most positive impact we can have is to help emergency relief organisations and governments anticipate how a disease is likely to spread. Until now they had to rely on anecdotal information, on-the-ground surveys, police and hospital reports,” Oliver said.

In this regard, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has started collecting mobile phone data from operators to track calls to helplines to in order to establish locations. Mapping innovator, Esri has been helping CDC to “visualise this data and overlay other existing sources of data from censuses to build up a richer picture.”

Questions over the effectiveness of Data Science here, remain unanswered. To get a fuller picture, we need more sources of data and the ability to analyse them quickly, experts say, reports BBC News.

“Big data analytics is about bringing together many different data sources and mining them to find patterns,” notes Frances Dare, managing director of Accenture Health. While reports on the social media may not be completely accurate, they might contain early ‘warning signals’, says Michael Hendrix, director of emerging research and issues at the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

To help alert and avert outbreaks like the current Ebola, this information can work well when combined with official data sources.

Read more here.

(Image credit: NIAID)



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