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Epidemic control using big data – a game changer in global health

The issue of epidemics is closely related to Sustainable Development Goal #3, which focuses on ensuring health and wellbeing. Epidemics have long been part of human history, from the Plague of Athens – the first recorded outbreak of infectious disease – to recent epidemics such as Ebola and MERS.
Epidemic control using ICT for global health

Growing international exchanges, increases in population and urbanization, intensification of global climate and environmental changes, and inadequate systems of disease prevention and control are the leading causes of severe epidemics in modern society.

On top of the terrible loss of life that epidemics cause, the economic impact can also be devastating for the survivors. 

Leveraging mobile technology for epidemic control

Mobile networks have brought voice and internet services to billions of people around over the last 25 years. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, there are approximately 5.5 billion subscribers globally. At the current trajectory, mobile broadband will provide network coverage to around 95 percent of the world’s population by 2022. These numbers indicate that the mobile industry has a great potential to deliver life-saving information even in the most remote and resource poor areas.

With this in mind, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development (BCSD) decided to establish a Working Group on Epidemic Preparedness last year, with the objective of developing a proposal to use ICT to prevent the spread of epidemics in the world.

I served as Ericsson’s representative on the international cross-functional team of experts that made up the Working Group. We developed our recommendations through an iterative and collaborative process, drawing on the broad and deep expertise of group members including the World Bank Group, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), GSMA, health experts and scientists.

We met online or offline on a quarterly basis, reviewed material, exchanged ideas and discussed the strategic trajectory of the report. Korea Telecom Group took responsibility for the coordination of the experts and the development of the content.

Fighting future epidemics using ICT – the role of big data

Different types of data can be used for analytics and/or simulation in the fight against epidemics, including genetic data, Call Data Records (CDR) in mobile networks, roaming data, cell phone mobility, social media data, and location-based information data, to name a few.

Various technologies already exist to collect, analyze, and report on epidemic-related data. It is important to use different sources of data in order to create an accurate view of an epidemic situation. The simultaneous collection of CDR, roaming data, IoT data, location-based data and social media data can provide analytics platforms with enough information to produce accurate reports that help governments and organizations to take the right decisions.

Report recommendations

The Working Group’s report was presented at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week. It includes three key recommendations:

  • Regulation for safe personal data utilization: Currently, many countries around the globe have privacy protection laws in place. However, this should not lead to the loss of opportunities to prevent the spread of epidemics in an early manner. Regulation for safe personal data utilization is needed.
  • Establishment of epidemics data sharing/monitoring system: Data sharing and utilization among nations around the world is essential to effectively fight epidemics.
  • Expansion of global governance: There is a need for global governance to be jointly led by international organizations of various fields, such as the UN, ITU and WHO. International organizations can include the establishment of epidemics-related regulations and policy guidelines that governments around the world can refer to and the promotion of the private-public-international community participation to build an integrated system.

I encourage you to read the full contents of the report, which is available on the BCSD website.

We are living in “The Age of Mobility” and ICT technology offers a wealth of opportunities for us to achieve both SDG #3 and all the other goals as well. In fact, I believe there is no other industry that is better positioned than ours to enable the achievement of the SDGs.

That’s why Ericsson was one of the first private companies to adopt the SDG framework into its group strategy to measure our impact on society. I hope that our example inspires other companies in our industry to follow our lead.

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