Archive for the ‘Access to Health’ Category
Swine flu is in. In the rush to cover this latest possible pandemic, newswires are alive with activity, blogs and social networking sites are buzzing, and the CDC and WHO are back in the limelight. This despite the fact that the number of cases are limited (only 40 confirmed infections have occurred in the US).
The rush of news has been accompanied by a rush to track that news. The WSJ, amongst others, has a tracking website, including a map of infections in North America. Best of all, Google has a map showing how the infection is traveling.
This rush was started by Google Flu Trends, a website that tracks flu-related search queries to estimate influenza levels in different US states. Further studies suggested the same approach might work for other diseases as well.
Analyzing Google Trends
So how has Google Trends, the broader application of the Flu Trends concept, performed in the current scenario? A quick analysis shows that Google search results did in fact increase over the past few days (see chart – source: Google Trends).
A quick analysis shows three items worth mentioning:
- First, while Google Trends does show an increase in search activity on “swine flu,” the first uptick in activity only occurred on April 23. By contrast, the first news stories appeared on April 21 when two cases were confirmed in California.
- Second, Google Trends reports that the majority of search queries were from New Zealand, USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. Only a very small minority were from Mexico. Yet, Mexico is the country supposedly at the heart of the pandemic.
Explaining the Discrepencies
I had used a Google Trends like methodology two years ago to track the evolution of climate change as an issue in news coverage. Having worked on that, I can propose a few general reasons that explain why Google Trends is limited in this case.
First, it appears that Google Trends follows with some time lag, actual infections. This should not be surprising, as people are not likely to search for a disease before having had some exposure to it. This does not mean that it is not a useful tool for tracking diseases over the long term. At the very least, the response time of a system based on GT might be lower.
Second, the current scenario shows that Google Trends is highly susceptible to “noise.” Prior to this outbreak, swine flu was probably not a commonly known disease, and queries on it were extremely rare (if not non-existent). Thus, even the slightest uptick in search activity would show up as a major change. That uptick was provided by the highly charged media coverage of the subject. Given this, one wonders if the search results are more “noise” and less people with a genuine interest in the subject. So, Google Trends is likely to be more accurate where general knowledge of a subject (the baseline) is high, and media coverage (noise) is low.
Finally, and most interestingly, why is it that most of the search results came from the US, while Mexico is more exposed to it? Not surprisingly, this methodology only works where both a large number of the population and media are on the internet.
What Next for Google Trends?
When discussing why most search queries occurred in the US, it is worth noting another fact about the swine flu outbreak – that it has traveled extremely fast. Originating in Mexico, it has been carried to the USA, Spain, and New Zealand. This brings into question the validity of using the geographic source of search queries as a reliable indicator of where the disease actually is.
Still, it may also offer a way to enhance Google Trends. What if Google Trends data was combined with travel data on the number of people traveling from a “hotspot” of an infectious disease. It would be logical to assume that popular destinations, or ones which receive travel groups, would be the most likely next locations for further infections. Thus, a map could potentially be created of not only where the disease is generating interest, but where it might be headed.
Of course, Google does not have access to such data – though at some point it may decide to acquire a travel operator. But the general lesson is simply that to make Google Trends more useful, search query data needs to be looked at together with real-world data (such as travel data or hospital records).
It is still early days for the swine flu outbreak, but some commentators are already suggesting the “social web” has actually created hysteria rather than help track the disease. That may be true, but it is hardly a problem of the “social web.” As a reader on the FP pointed out, “Twitter is only a natural extension of a typical neighborhood.”
So, in this “typical neighborhood,” what the swine flu outbreak has done is illustrate where Google Trends does well – in tracking general interest amongst heavy Internet users. But it also exposes limitations – the methodology is (not surprisingly) susceptibility to “noise” from media coverage and is biased towards countries and issues that are online. This does not mean that the idea itself is flawed. Just that it must be taken with a pinch of salt, and that it needs work – especially interfacing it with real-world data streams – to make it really useful.
Please vote for Ben’s mobile payment for health systems project. Voting closes Friday.
VOTE – NETSQUARED: By introducing a smartphone and web-application system for submitting and reviewing claims, we hope to reduce the delays and errors, increase clinics’ profitability and improve communication. Below is a related post by Melissa Ho who is working with Ben on this project which fills a critical gap. Cross posted from ICTDCHICK:
As I have been pre-occupied with writing lectures for my class, and setting up my research, my collaborating partners at Marie Stopes International Uganda have been busy launching a new phase of the output-based aid voucher program, financing in-hospital delivery of babies, in addition to the in-clinic treatment of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). The new program, called HealthyBaby is eligible to mothers who qualify under a specific poverty baseline and covers four antenatal visits, the delivery, and a postnatal visit. Last week they just started distributing vouchers, and this past weekend was the delivery of the first baby whose birth was covered by the program.
Like the HealthyLife program, the mother purchases a voucher for 3000 USh (approximately 1.50 USD, the HealthyLife program charges 3000USh for a pair of vouchers treating both sexual partners). The voucher then can be broken into several sticker stubs, one of which is submitted with a claim form on each visit.
The hospital then submits the claim form with the voucher to the funding agency (my collaborating organization), who then pays the hospital for the cost of the visit – labs, any prescriptions given, the consultation fee, etc. You can see in the picture to the right the nurse filling out the paper form and the mother putting her thumbprint on it. Filling out the forms can be tedious and error prone – this particular clinic had almost 18% of their STI claims rejected for errors last October. In the same month another clinics had 38.6% of their claims rejected. I am trying to work on digital systems that can help improve communications between the clinics and the funding agency, and also decrease the cost and burden of claims administration.
The Claim Mobile project actually focuses on the HealthyLife program – the STI treatment program, rather than the HealthyBaby program, but I hope to demonstrate the sustainability and replicability of the system that I’m developing by training the engineers here to retool my system for HealthyBaby – so by the time I leave, I am hoping it will be in place for both programs.
By coincidence, this first birth occurred in one of the two clinics where I’m running the pre-pilot of the Claim Mobile system.
The WHO has decided to focus this World Health Day on hospital infrastructure during times of emergency. The folks over at Global Health Progress have a good round of what some bloggers are saying and include health journalism folks as well as thoughts from the AvianFlu diary. I thought I would go off theme and briefly throw out some thoughts on the bigger picture and encourage you to use this day to think about what is the future of global health? In this context of thinking about the future in 10, 20 or 30 years, the world is in turmoil and we are questioning the fundamental nature of market driven economies, why not use this as an opportunity to do the same for global health in a forward looking way? Think about where we are and whether we are prioritizing the right things and moving in the right directions?
Approximately 10 (only TEN!) years ago there was no Google, Kiva, Gates Foundation or knowledge about the cost differences between generic and brand name drugs (see this great talk on the Future of Global Health by Jim Yong Kim and his discussion of how they reduced the price of treating MDR TB patients by 80-90% in 1999) amongst major care organizations (absolutely stunning). Mobile phone penetration was less than 1% in developing countries and social entrepreneurship wasn’t hot, the vast majority of us probably hadn’t even heard of that term.
Where we were ten years ago is arguably a profoundly different world from where we are today and per the video below “we are living in exponential times“. To give you further inspiration to think differently today definitely watch the below (via 2173):
The acceleration of technology for social change and global health is going to increase, in this decade alone the convergence of movements in philanthropy, entrepreneurship and technology all enabled by the internet and mobile phone revolution have allowed people to collaborate, innovate and communicate on an entirely different level. I don’t know what the future of global health is – but I wonder how open source collaborations will contribute to solutions and whether twittering for global health will be around in five years and for whom and what purpose? Or will we just be doing more of the same. I wonder if we will be doing entire marketing and health education campaigns via mobile phones and how this will evolve. Will there be convergence of people and ideas working on global and domestic health? Will the flow of innovation and products from “South” to “North” become the next hot topic? I wonder if we will have a TED just for Global Health?
We might face a global crisis in 2030 but we will also be better equipped to face that crisis.Today is a day we should be thinking about what all the possibilities are and how we can get there in the fastest way possible. The last idea I will throw out as food for thought is to think about what have been the top 10 biggest developments in global health in the last decade and how will these shape the future?
“In London, Washington and Paris, people talk of bonuses or no bonuses…in parts of Africa, South Asia and Latin America, the struggle is for food or no food…the greatest price for incompetence at the summit will be borne by the poorest people in the world.
Oxfam has calculated that financial firms around the world have already received or been promised $8.4 trillion in bailouts. Just a week’s worth of interest on that sum while it’s waiting to be deployed would be enough to save most of the half-million women who die in childbirth each year in poor countries.”
Nicholas Kristoff, NY Times, At Stake are More than the Banks, April 1, 2009
A different more pro-active spin on the above comes from Lynne Twist:
“This is a time that I think history will look back on and say, ‘These are the people, this is the generation of humankind that went through a transformation that made the future of life possible. These are the people who had the courage to make profound changes in the way they were thinking, as well as in the way that they were behaving, that gave the future to life itself.”
I got a couple of requests to post two informative efforts. Note the Senate hearing tomorrow and the tie made to global food security. Second various agencies are linking up to administer 4 million anti-worm medication, that’s an impressive amount:
GLOBAL HUNGER HEARING
As a reminder, tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Alleviating Global Hunger: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Leadership” at 9:30 a.m. in room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Building (AGENDA). The committee has invited Dan Glickman, former secretary of agriculture, and Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Program to testify at the hearing, offering their insight as co-chairs of a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ report entitled “Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty: The Chicago Initiative on Global Agricultural Development.”
Congress has recently recognized the importance of this global food security (2009 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill). This legislation mandated that $75 million in Development Assistance funding be spent “to enhance global food security, including for local or regional purchase and distribution of food, in addition to other funds otherwise made available for such purposes and notwithstanding any other provision of law.”
RWANDA’S MOTHER AND CHILD HEALTH WEEK KICKS OFF MARCH 24
The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ Control Program Teams with Rwandan Government and International Organizations to Deworm More Than 4 Million Children Nationwide, Covering Nearly Half of the Country’s Population
NTD Prevalence Rates Up to 95% Among Rwandan School-Children
Over the course of the week-long initiative, representatives will administer albendazole to a targeted population of 4 million children under five, school-aged children, and post-partum women, to treat for soil-transmitted helminthes (STHs). Additionally, in the high prevalence areas, praziquantel will be administered to an estimated 100,000 people for schistosomiasis infection. The goal of the campaign is to treat all pre and school-aged children nationwide – covering approximately one-half of Rwanda ’s population. Vitamin A, immunizations, family planning services and health education messages will also be delivered throughout the country during the course of the campaign.
Why: Research has shown that eliminating the burden of NTDs could lift millions out of poverty worldwide by ensuring children stay in school to learn and prosper and improving maternal and child health. NTDs infect over 400 million school-aged children throughout the developing world. Treating their infections is the single most cost-effective way to boost school attendance. Controlling intestinal worms alone will help to avoid 16 million cases of mental retardation and 200 million years of lost primary schooling
When: Tuesday, March 24th – Friday March 27th
I’ll be in New York attending the health portion of the following workshop. Please pass the word and if you are around and want to meet up send us an email (thdblog AT gmail).
“The CATER research group cordially invites you to attend the 2009 workshop on “Technologies for Development” which showcases our ongoing research efforts in the space of appropriate technologies that aid development in under-developed areas around the world.
Cost-Effective Appropriate Technologies for Emerging Regions (CATER) is a new multidisciplinary research initiative at NYU that focuses on developing appropriate, low-cost Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for addressing pressing problems in developing regions. CATER is a joint initiative comprising faculty from Computer Science, the School of Medicine, the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, NYU’s Economics Department, and NYU-Polytechnic.
This workshop will feature a combination of invited talks from accomplished researchers and short talks by student researchers within
CATER on their ongoing research efforts. The talks will cover four important areas:”
· Technologies for improving access to communications in rural areas
· Technologies for enhancing rural healthcare
· Technologies for enhancing financial and commerce services
· Technologies for enhancing rural education
On March 19th I will be participating in an online conversation about output-based aid hosted by PSP-One. Output-based aid (OBA) financially empowers patients to make choices about where they receive their healthcare and incentivizes providers to deliver high quality services. The management of OBA systems builds institutional capacity to provide cost-effective care to targeted populations. However, OBA is by no means a panacea to what ails health systems in low-income countries. Join in on the discussion to find out more! Once again it is March 19th:
9:30 am Eastern (United States)
1:30 pm (13:30) Greenwich Mean Time
2:30 pm West Africa Time Zone
3:30 pm Central Africa Time Zone
4:30 pm East Africa Time Zone
If you would like to receive details about the chat or would like to suggest questions for discussion, please email the organizers at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You will need to register beforehand on the Network for Africa. Registration takes 30 seconds at the following link: http://www.conferences.icohere.com/vouchers