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Data surveillance in viral pandemics


ALN Academy, on 26th May 2020, in collaboration with The Commonwealth, Griffith University, Microsoft and Strathmore University hosted a live webinar to discuss issues related to the current moves toward deployment of surveillance systems as a response to tackling viral pandemics. The webinar was the opening session of a 5 part series in which specific sup topics related to the overall theme will be addressed in a 4 week period beginning on Tuesday 9th June 2020. The webinar brought together an array of experts from around the world with the objective of unpacking the reality and providing valuable guidance to the private an public sectors regarding the type of frameworks that will be required to strike the right balance between public health, privacy and maintaining the highest ethical standards.

Emergence and spread of pandemics

The first panel began by an in depth assessment of the broad range of factors that are driving the emergence and spread of infectious diseases in the 21st Century. Particularly, this was assessed among three main factors; ecological, which addresses climate/weather conditions, environmental factors; biological, which addresses issues such as age, gender, genotype; and socio-economic, which addresses issues such as access to health care and medicine.

The second panel’s objective was to assess the current models and approaches used to predict and track infectious disease outbreaks in the 21st century. A key part of the discussions tailored around infectious diseases in animals that have the potential to transfer from animals to humans. The role of the environmental degradation in accelerating the contact between animals and humans and thereby resulting in new infections that have the capacity to infect human beings.

Prediction of outbreaks

The third panel addressed the applications of AI/Machine learning and Big Data in the prediction of infectious disease outbreaks and patterns of transmission and spread. The speakers in the panel, rightly so addressed the power of Big Data analytics in resulting in accurate predictions. Examples were given by one of the panelists of several analyses that were conducted at his research organisation at Griffith University in which accurate predictions of elections as well as other events were made owing to development of AI/Machine learning techniques as well as big data analytics. However, the proviso that the right data ought to be collected was emphatically made as not having the right data might result in wayward results.

The AI panel discussions paved the way for the final panel whose objective was to address the ethics, governance and human rights issues that ought to be considered in the applications of AI and Big Data in global public health approaches to infectious disease predictions. Questions arose on the concerns with respect to sharing of data, processing of data as well as the privacy questions arising therein.

Deep dive sessions to follow

The opening session, however, was only a tiny taste of the deep dive discussions that are scheduled over a 4-week period in the month of June in which each panel’s topics will be addressed in depth with contributions from experts from all over the world.


To register for the subsequent events, register here.


The article was written by Abdulmalik Adan, Strathmore Law School


Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu