Technologically possible, data-driven, and worthy of our investment
In the recent issue of EMBO reports, Barbara Han of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and John Drake of the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology call for the creation of a global early warning system for infectious diseases. Such a system would use computer models to tap into environmental, epidemiological and molecular data, gathering the intelligence needed to forecast where disease risk is high and what actions could prevent outbreaks or contain epidemics.
An early warning system would shift the infectious disease paradigm from reactive — where first responders scramble to contain active threats, as in the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks — to pre-emptive management of risk. Infectious disease intelligence could assess vulnerabilities based on the ebb and flow of risk in real-time, and inform targeted responses that minimize damages.
“For far too long our main strategy for tackling infectious disease has been defense after emergence, when a lot of people are already suffering,” Han explained, “We are at an exciting point in time where technology and Big Data present us with another option, one that is anticipatory and has real potential to improve global health security.”
Han and Drake propose that a three-tiered system with “watches,” “warnings” and “emergencies” — like that used for severe weather alerts — would help decision makers and the public to make more informed decisions.