The coronoavirus (COVID-19) is being solved with Artificial Intelligence and Data Science. Global researchers are partnering on scientific breakthroughs to rapidly deploy and test new vaccines, to determine hotspots of the disease growth, and to recommend strategies with the World Health Organization for disease quarantine and prevention.
Since the December 2019 outbreak of the #coronavirus (COVD-19) in China, I have been closely watching the news and listening to speeches about the deadly virus. There is panic everywhere with people wearing masks and others locked in their houses all day to avoid contracting the virus. As the factory of the world, there are fears the outbreak will negatively impact the Chinese economy. China is a great country with great people and the latest images from the country show a somber mood everywhere.
The current death toll stands at over 1,500 people with those infected estimated at over 60,000 people. This past week, the daily death toll reached the highest since the outbreak at 242 people and led to the sacking of officials at Hubei. More than 25 countries have reported the coronavirus with evacuations taking place to protect foreign nationals from infections. Outside China, only Japan, HongKong and Philippines have reported deaths each respectively.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic which threatens the lives of people. With shutdowns everywhere from airports, to businesses and transport, the Chinese people are suffering, and they need global support. Quarantine efforts already kicked off at Wuhan, where the virus broke out from an open air market and are currently spreading to other parts of China. The fast spread of the coronavirus from one person to another makes this disease deadly with current estimates showing close to 60,000 people already sick.
From these numbers, it is clear that the world needs a quick and safe solution right now to combat further spread of the coronavirus. What then is the best solution to this health crisis? This is where technologies such as #ArtificialIntelligence and #MachineLearning come into play. Analytics have changed the way disease outbreaks are tracked and managed, hence saving lives. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have adopted analytics and big data in their review of the coronavirus with optimism setting in about finding a lasting solution.
Before I delve into how analytics and AI can assist in stopping the coronavirus from spreading, let us first understand the coronavirus.
What then is the best solution to this health crisis? This is where technologies such as #ArtificialIntelligence and #MachineLearning come into play.
The coronavirus (COVD-19) originates from a virus family associated with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and common cold. Researchers say that the coronavirus originates from animals and spreads to humans after which people infect each other.
Animals such as bats and snakes consists of viruses that are deadly to human health with researchers claiming that other animals contain different virus strains but are yet to spread to humans. The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome is another infection with similar origins as the coronavirus and poses risks to human health as well.
The following are common signs of coronavirus according to WHO:
a) Breathing problems
b) Excess coughing
c) High fever
d) Respiratory based issues such as gasping for breath
a) Nose and mouth covering during sneezing
b) Cooking food well such as meat
c) Washing hands
d) Avoiding contact with those infected or showing signs
AI and Data Analytics to measure and prevent Coronavirus
Predictive analytics and big data have become a powerful tool for combating deadly disease outbreaks such as coronavirus and SARS.
BlueDot is one AI start-up that has developed intelligent systems that sift through data about people to determine the chances of disease occurrence. The AI platform from BlueDot is among the latest technological advances using data analytics to map and prevent diseases. Something quite interesting is that BlueDot predicted the SARS pandemic and turned out to be true. The SARS outbreak came with devastating effects and claimed the lives of almost 1,000 people. The outbreak alert about the Coronavirus on December 2019 is another evidence attesting to the powerful nature of AI technology. This later came true as the outbreak became mainstream on February 2nd, 2020.
Natural language processing (NLP) is one tool used by BlueDot to track diseases with the company being successful in detecting diseases around the globe. For instance, BlueDot analyzes human languages around the world and use the information to assist them forecast disease outbreaks. Machine learning is another technology used by BlueDot with the algorithms offering updated information about possible disease occurrences. Nevertheless, the #AI technology at BlueDot saves time and resources by empowering health professionals with information on prevention measures. Often times, disease prevention poses threats compared to predicting and thanks to the machine learning tools, health specialists focus on patient safety.
Insilico Medicine is another start-up focused on using analytics in disease prevention. Based in Maryland, USA, Insilico Medicine is currently developing technology that will inform doctors about molecules capable of fighting against the coronavirus. The AI system at Insilico Medicine is fast and accurate having recently analyzed molecules and provided feedback about molecules suited to counter the coronavirus. The start-up is currently developing a database of molecular information that medical researchers can use in their projects and more so combating deadly outbreaks including the coronavirus.
Harvard Medical School is spearheading efforts to find solutions for the coronavirus by using machine learning technology to review data and information from various sources, including patient records, social media and public health data. As a result of a natural language processing tool, researchers at Harvard Medical School can search online information about the coronavirus and understand the current location of the outbreak. For example, NLP is aiding in distinguishing between people complaining about coronavirus symptoms and those discussing about the disease but not affected. According to the HMS, the patterns in online media can facilitate discovery of a location outbreak and promote increased awareness on potential solutions.
The University of Southampton also is undertaking research efforts in the current coronavirus outbreak with the institution using AI technology to model data from search engines to map the outbreak. According to the researchers, AI technology is assisting them to understand the movement patterns of the coronavirus from Wuhan to other parts of China and the rest of the world. These #machinelearning and #AI technologies have assisted researchers to predict the virus, its structure and its spreading methods. Consequently, this will help health professionals understand the solutions needed to combat further spread of the virus.
Geographic Information Systems Technology
The GIS technology has become an important tool for stopping the spread of the coronavirus with John Hopkins University leading the way in this area
Data mining is critical for GIS technology to work because of using information to detect areas where people talk about the disease. Social media sites are good information sources for GIS as the technology maps the area of interest where people are talking about the coronavirus. Accordingly, prevention measures can be implemented since these heatmaps can better track both the location and the spread of a disease. Ten years ago, it was practically impossible to track diseases; today, with AI, machine learning and GIS, data mining and extracting insights is both easier and more powerful at location viruses. The bottom line: prevention response time is quicker today.
Action Plan by the World Health Organization against Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The WHO is leading efforts against combating the spread of the coronavirus with global professionals convening at Switzerland to lay out plans. The first priority according to WHO is determining information available on the coronavirus to better map the situation and develop concrete solutions. Secondly, the WHO is measuring loopholes in the current virus outbreak to foster collaboration needed to stop further spread.
Research funding of the coronavirus is another key area under focus by the WHO with the organization calling governments and organizations to mobilize resources in equal measure. Part of the plan is to develop measures that will prevent further spread of the coronavirus in future. The special meeting convened by the WHO will also discuss vaccine and drug development to prevent outbreaks.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the World Health Organization is at the forefront of combating the coronavirus and called for collaboration between researchers and scientists. According to the WHO director, the success against coronavirus pandemic lies in the research community working together to fight the outbreak by bring the best minds together. The Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness in partnership with the WHO is currently working round the clock to spearhead research efforts such as technology required to address the coronavirus outbreak.
Besides funding needed to create solutions for the current coronavirus outbreak, the WHO is encouraging dissemination of data among researchers, government and business community to better fight the disease. According to the WHO, information sharing will ensure that the virus is well understood and the public will join in the fight by adopting best practices. Collective responsibility is another priority discussed at the Geneva meeting with delegates stressing the need for frameworks and implementation plans that will respond to the crisis on time.
What is China doing to Fight the Coronavirus?
Artificial intelligence tops the technologies used by China to handle the coronavirus outbreak. Technology companies in China are developing applications to help people confirm their movements during the period of the outbreak as a safety measure and to avoid further spread. Data from trains is an example of passenger screening where applications check the movement and contact of people.
Secondly, tech companies in China are analyzing passenger flight information with other cases such as in Guangzhou where AI robots are reminding people to wear masks for disease prevention. These initiatives demonstrate the technological solutions applied by China in the midst of this crisis. Predictive analytics from data is changing the approach of outbreak management by delivering updates which are then followed by additional updates.
There is hope for China and the World at Large
Data analytics, AI and machine learning have been pivotal in addressing the coronavirus outbreak and according to WHO, the situation is stabilizing despite new infections reported and deaths still increasing. The WHO cautions that its not early to predict the virus stabilizing but more needs to be done to eradicate this outbreak. The Chinese government in collaboration with WHO and governments across the globe are working round the clock by using technology to fight the outbreak.
An audio version of this Medium article is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts