Thursday, February 14, 2013

Techies, The NCDC Could Use A Hand

Yesterday, I paid a visit the National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi on a personal errand. While waiting for one of the pathologists, I met an epidemiologist who has worked on both the policy side as well as in the lab. We had an engaging and fascinating discussion that sparked off from our mutual admiration for the amazing work of the very appropriately-named Larry Brilliant

(I encourage you to learn more about this unsung hero who has saved tens of thousands of Indian lives. Here's an interview I did with him three years ago). 

Coming back to the reason for this post, our discussion headed towards how the NCDC currently works to detect potential epidemics and stop them in their tracks. 

From what I gathered, the current system has two levels. The first is monitoring centers located in each district. These are in touch with local clinics & hospitals. They report back to New Delhi via satellite if there is a sudden rise in hospitalisations or sick patients, etc.

The second level is what the NCDC calls its 'Media Scanning & Verification' team. This team is based in Delhi and 'scans' TV & print media across the country for information of potential outbreaks. The team's epidemiologist then gets in touch with local authorities and doctors to 'verify' details of the disease, its virulence and whether any help is required to control the spread. 

In an ideal scenario, the district teams would rapidly spot a potential epidemic and alert the NCDC, which would then swing into action. In case the district teams miss something, the NCDC would pick up signals from media reports and swing into action. 

This 'sort of' works but I personally find it inadequate in the age of Google Flu Trends and rapid, mass transit. 

Our system relies on official reporting, which as we all know, takes time. Several days may be lost between the time 'Patient Zero' develops symptoms to the time 'The System' realises 'Patient Zero' has travelled to another city via a major airport hub. 

Now, Google does report Dengue Trends for India. However, the NCDC has some 35 diseases on its watchlist.

So here's a call to techies and coders who'd be willing to volunteer time and work with the really passionate doctors at the NCDC. I personally believe an effort to develop tools like the ones Google offers, relevant to the Indian context, can save countless lives. I'd be happy to connect you to the team I met at NCDC. Leave me a comment or connect with me via Twitter. 

1 comment:

  1. Pierre

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    So if the goal is to collect news items and map them, this template is easy way to get going. It requires RSS feeds from different news services.


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