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Towards Timely Public Health Decisions to Tackle Seasonal Diseases With Open Government Data

December 06, 2016 by Vandana Srivastava, Biplav Srivastava

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Improving public health is a major responsibility of any government, and is of major interest to citizens and scientific communities around the world. Here, one sees two extremes. On one hand, tremendous progress has been made in recent years in the understanding of causes, spread and remedies of common and regularly occurring diseases like Dengue, Malaria and Japanese Encephalistis (JE). On the other hand, public agencies treat these diseases in an ad hoc manner without learning from the experiences of previous years. Specifically, they would get alerted once reported cases have already arisen substantially in the known disease season, reactively initiate a few actions and then document the disease impact (cases, deaths) for that period, only to forget this learning in the next season. However, they miss the opportunity to reduce preventable deaths and sickness, and their corresponding economic impact, which scientific progress could have enabled. The gap is universal but very prominent in developing countries like India. In this paper, we show that if public agencies provide historical disease impact information openly, it can be analyzed with statistical and machine learning techniques, correlated with best emerging practices in disease control, and simulated in a setting to optimize social benefits to provide timely guidance for new disease seasons and regions. We illustrate using open data for mosquito-borne communicable diseases; published results in public health on efficacy of Dengue control methods and apply it on a simulated typical city for maximal benefits with available resources. The exercise helps us further suggest strategies for new regions that may be anywhere in the world, how data could be better recorded by city agencies and what prevention methods should medical community focus on for wider impact.