Dengue: Prediction, before Prevention as a Cure

With 12,000 cases of dengue reported in the Delhi alone, India is facing its worst dengue outbreak in the last twenty years (NDTV India). The number of deaths has touched 41 including the three highly mediatized deaths of children under the age of 10, which according to the media reports is the result of denying admission by the private hospitals. The Govt. of NCT of Delhi has taken several measures to address the situation. It has asked public and private hospitals to add beds, has issued several public interest messages over a range of media, has invited nurses and doctors to volunteer their time, and have issued strict warnings of license cancellations if hospitals deny admission to any patients.

Patients at the medical facility

To understand a little bit about the nature of the epidemic, it is necessary to understand the causes of dengue. Dengue fever is transmitted by the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito infected with a dengue virus. The mosquito becomes infected when it bites a person with dengue virus in their blood. It can’t be spread directly from one person to another person. Aedes aegypti – which thrives in areas where unhygienic situation caused by improper drainage system and sanitation arrangements. It spreads rapidly if specific controls and measures are not taken on the time like cleaning drainage before rainy season, sprinkling the anti-mosquito tablets in ponds and nearby colonies and dense populated areas.

The virus can cause acute febrile illness, manifested through an initial rise in body temperature, followed by headache, chest pain and then the temperature can go quickly as high as 104 F with relatively low heart rate and low blood pressure crumbles .There is currently no specific therapeutic protocol or vaccine against the infection by the virus. Some remedies include maintaining fluid intake for hydration e.g. lemonade and taking aspirin i.e. paracetamol for body pain and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) taken under the doctor’s supervision. It implies that preparedness on the part of the public health system as well as the people at large is imperative to curbing the spread of the virus.

Dengue-230Stagnant water in the localities, parks, and water collected during the monsoon season is the most suitable areas and time to breed. According to media sources the strike of municipal sanitation workers for the non- payment of their wages before the monsoon period come as the hurdle in the proper implementation of the dengue control program by National Vector-borne diseases control programme in Delhi. The situation got worse in Southern district of Municipal Corporation of Delhi with 2,578 cases till date followed by 2,561 cases in North Delhi district. Fumigation drives, and drain cleaning, are few measures that have been taken so far to control the epidemic. In some cases, residents themselves have taken it upon themselves to check the breeding in nearby areas.

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Municipal worker on fumigation drive

While preventive measures as those being advocated by the government as well as taken on by citizens are necessary to curb the epidemic of dengue, there are others who advocate for a far more predictive approach to coping with the challenge. According to a recent study by the Dep. Of Epidemiology, Harward T.H. Chan School the mobility of infected people from dengue-prone areas into other regions as a critical factor in the transmission of the virus. To support this hypothesis, they used mobile call records data of the 3,97,85,786 people who travelled during the dengue outbreak in Pakistan in which top routes were taken were Karachi and Northern Punjab (Pakistan) between June 1 and December 31 of 2013. Based on estimates derived from mobile phone data the team predicted the time of the outbreak in certain area and alarmed the authorities (assuming 30% of individuals travel, a 2% reporting rate, and a probability of 0.01), to enable them to cope better with existing loopholes in the public service delivery and helped in managing the situation.

While it might seem that there is a hype around big data and its use for development, examples like the above offer real and meaningful glimpses of what it could accomplish. According to Sriganesh Lokanathan, Head of Big Data Research at LIRNEasia, who brought this research to our attention, there is a positive consequence of the hype, that is an pressure towards the creation of intelligent consumers of big data. Sriganesh will be presenting his work on using big data, specifically call records data, to influence urban planning, mobility as well as communicable diseases as showcased above, at the sixth edition of the Design Public Conclave to be held on the 3rd of November at the Vihara Innovation Campus. Themed Citizen Participation and the Business of Governance, this edition will bring together examples of the use of various digital technologies towards the bridging of the gaps between governments and citizens.

For more on LIRNEasia’s big data work read here and here. To join us at Design Public please write into Namrata Mehta at namrata.mehta@cks.in

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