How pandemic analytics and AI can curb the Covid-19 virus

05 May 2020 Consultancy.com.au

As the world struggles to control the spread of Covid-19 and return daily life to normal, an increasing numbers of scientists are turning to big data and analytics for assistance. David Sogn, Associate Vice President Digital & Analytics at HCL Technologies, explains how technology can.

As the virus continues to spread rapidly, data from multiple sources is being combined. Data scientists are working with epidemiologists to obtain new insights and generate predictions of what might lie ahead. Demand for data is also coming from the general public. Faced with extended lockdowns and economic disruption, people want to know whether the battle is being won and what it all means for them. 

The rise of pandemic analytics

The role of data analysis in these unusual times has been dubbed pandemic analytics. It involves using sophisticated tools to combine and analyse large data sets to provide insights that can guide everything from government policies to the activities of law enforcement agencies. 

How pandemic analytics and AI can curb the Covid-19 virus

There are three key ways in which pandemic analytics can help governments and their citizens get through this global crisis. They are: 

1. Guiding the global response:

With incidents of infection continuing to rise at an alarming rate, authorities are tasked with allocating limited resources in the most effective way possible. This is being achieved by analysing all accessible and meaningful data and using it to guide responses. 

Healthcare administrators are using data-driven forecasting to best allocate personnel and medical supplies in advance of predicted local outbreaks. This work is being supported by sophisticated  algorithms that can provide predictions based on factors such as the number of confirmed cases, deaths, test results, contact tracing, population density, demographics, migration flow, and availability of medical resources. 

These efforts are supported by the fact that large volumes of virus-related data are being generated every day. Putting analytics tools to work can help to turn this data into effective action.

2. Gaining better insights:

The volume of data being generated and high levels of sharing have led to large numbers of visual representations being made available to the general public.  One example is a constantly updated world map  generated by Johns Hopkins University. The map brings together data from a wide variety of sources including the World Health Organisation, Centre for Disease Control and China’s National Health Commission. 

Tools such as this help members of the public understand the extent of the pandemic and the impact that various responses are having. In some countries, companies are also using pandemic data to develop their own proprietary intelligence. Some are using this to guide their employees and customers in an effort to contain the economic impact of the situation. 

For example, HCL Technologies has created its own command centre focused on guiding the company’s response to Covid-19. The initiative provides HCL data scientists with the autonomy to develop creative and pragmatic insights that support management decision making. The data scientists are using techniques such as statistics, control theory, simulation modelling and Natural Language Processing (NLP). 

The HCL data scientists are working to create forecasts that can predict when regions critical to the company and its customers will reach peak infection, and when there will be a rise in rates of recovery.

“It’s clear that data and analytics has a significant role to play in the ongoing battle against Covid-19 and putting the world on course to recovery.”
– David Sogn, HCL Technologies
 

3. Diagnosis and treatment:

The development of an effective healthcare response to the virus requires the analysis of large volumes of data is a short period of time. Increasingly, artificial intelligence (AI) tools are playing an important role.

Already AI has been used to help diagnose Covid-19 infections through the analysis of medical imaging, reducing the time for diagnosis from CT scans from about 5 minutes to just 20 seconds. In this way, AI can help to free up medical staff to focus on treating patients. 

AI is also being used to hasten the development and testing of new drugs to aid treatment. With the world in lockdown, the sooner these can be brought to market the better. It is hoped that, with the assistance of AI, research teams will be able to develop an effective vaccine much more quickly that has previously been possible.

Winning the battle

It’s clear that data and analytics has a significant role to play in the ongoing battle against Covid-19. Drawing data from multiple sources, analysing it and deriving informed insights can do much to support the work of authorities and keep the general public informed. 

By taking advantage of new, powerful AI tools, medical researchers and scientists will have a much better chance of overcoming the global outbreak and putting the world on course to recovery.


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