New COVID-19 tracking platform captures real-time spread, future outbreaks

Google and a consortium of COVID-19 researchers are launching Global.health, an open-access epidemiological data platform that enables experts to track disease spread in real-time and to forecast future outbreaks. This platform is expected to inform effective government and public response to the pandemic.

With the support of Google.org, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, Northeastern University and Oxford University created Global.health with the express purpose of leveraging anonymised data from open-access authoritative public health sources to track disease progression, read a statement by Google.

Data has always been a vital tool in understanding and fighting disease, says Kernie Obimakinde, Google.org Research Fellow, but upholding data privacy has also been a critical aspect in the design of Global.health.

“When an outbreak occurs, timely access to organised, trustworthy and anonymised data is critical as it can help public health leaders formulate early policy, medical interventions, and resource allocation — all of which can slow the spread of disease and save lives,” he explains.

The Global.health team say they are confident that the platform will become a key addition to the world’s early warning systems toolbox, helping identify and respond to future epidemics and pandemics that may occur globally, regionally and nationally.

Earlier research work by the consortium helped detect the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, and alert the World Health Organisation (WHO). Yet, due to the rapid spread of the virus around the world and the overwhelming pressure it created on their systems, the researchers tag-teamed with Google.org to urgently build Global.health.

The grant that culminated in the platform is part of a broader Google.org $100-million commitment to COVID-19 relief that was announced alongside 30 other projects from organisations around the world using AI and data analytics to support pandemic relief efforts.

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