WHO – Fighting Polio with TechnologyJanuary 30th, 2013
Technology is playing a key part in the fight against Polio. Collecting, analyzing and reporting on the masses of polio-related data generated globally on a daily basis is a significant undertaking, particularly when data about new cases must be distributed as quickly as possible to allow global, regional and local partners to coordinate a response.
- Article by Kevin Crampton
If humanity en masse could make a New Year’s resolution this month then we could do a lot worse than aiming for the complete global eradication of poliomyelitis (polio).
“Once polio is eradicated, the world can celebrate the delivery of a major global public good that will benefit all people equally, no matter where they live.” – World Health Organisation
The disease’s effects can cause limbs to atrophy, severe muscle weakness, paralysis and leave sufferers crippled, dependent on an “iron lung” to mechanically aid their breathing, or dead. It’s a virus that’s lived alongside man successfully for a long time and is first depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics, causing untold suffering throughout our history since it primarily attacks children under 5 years old and there is no known cure.
Our resolution would have a good precedent too since a concentrated global effort coordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) led to the eradication of the smallpox virus in 1979 and the Rinderpest in 2011.
A Polio-Free World
It’s clear what an enormous benefit the extinction of these diseases represent, once gone they are gone forever and every future generation benefits from improved health. The economic saving is estimated in the 10’s of billions of US Dollars.
More good news is that we are also very close to a polio-free world. The WHO and its partners have been working towards this goal since 1988 when the World Health Assembly, comprised of Ministers of Health of all countries of the world, resolved to eradicate polio. This launched the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and polio cases have been reduced by 99% compared to 1988 levels thanks to the use of vaccines. In 2012 for example there were just 223 cases, the lowest level ever reached, and the disease remains endemic in only three countries Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.
But there are significant challenges; polio symptoms only become visible in about 1% of cases which makes targeting immunizations difficult and the disease can quickly re-establish itself due to its aggressive rate of infection. Also the last strongholds of polio are political sensitive regions as the murder of vaccination workers in Pakistan at the end of 2012 attests.
Technology is playing a key part in the fight against the disease. Collecting, analyzing and reporting on the masses of polio-related data generated globally on a daily basis is a significant undertaking, particularly when data about new cases must be distributed as quickly as possible to allow global, regional and local partners to coordinate a response.
blue-infinity is the trusted partner WHO relies upon to provide the system that will store the polio-related case data provided by countries and regions in a centralized repository at WHO HQ including the generation of the reports that will underpin the final fight against the disease. The system must accept various file feeds describing new and existing polio cases and their linked data such as laboratory specimen analysis and follow up surveys to see how effective an immunization campaign may have been.
The project has been advancing with a number of Agile sprints and the modules delivered to date include the reference database of demographic information (populations, age group pyramids etc.) and its web interface and components for recording the mass immunization campaigns that occur every month to try to catch the disease either in a region or a whole country. The next step will be the data warehouse which will accept the various file feeds provided by the regional offices around the world so that polio data can be quickly and efficiently centralized and data cleaned on import.
The solution has been built using Microsoft .Net technologies implementing the MVC (model view controller) pattern for the best possible modularization and reuse of components. Prototyping and mock ups of interfaces have been used during requirement capture to “prove” the usability of the interface and these wireframes were assembled into annotated videos so that future users had the best possible opportunity to validate the screens with which they’ll be working on a daily basis.
Several sprints have been run concurrently so strong project management with close adherence to milestones was required.
The full suite of tools will eventually include automated notifications and alerts and the Inetsoft Style Intelligence reporting engine with the ability to produce geographic outputs rendering data on to maps using ArcGIS.
In the words of the WHO, “Once polio is eradicated, the world can celebrate the delivery of a major global public good that will benefit all people equally, no matter where they live.” It will be a permanent legacy to all future generations and b-i is proud to be a small part of that fight.
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