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Biosurveillance collaboration can save lives, improve health

By Nick Taylor , 08-Feb-2011
Last updated on 08-Feb-2011 at 09:56 GMT

More collaborative biosurveillance could save billions of dollars and millions of lives by, for example, cutting pandemic strain isolation times.

Effective biosurveillance improves the timeliness and effectiveness of health campaigns ranging from pandemic influenza to malaria. Many organisations, from the US government to Google, run biosurveillance operations looking at different areas, on different levels, using different methods.

Biosurveillance is one of the biggest tools for improving public health”, Chan Harjivan, partner, head of public health practice at PRTM, told in-PharmaTechnologist. As such, improvements to operations have the potential to have a significant impact on global health and finances.

However, a lack of collaboration is limiting the effectiveness of biosurveillance operations, says Harjivan. Bringing together data from different biosurveillance operations would give a more complete picture of the situation to improve the effectiveness of public health campaigns.

PRTM is working to support data sharing by creating an aggregation framework. This would bring together biosurveillance sources and allow users to access operations-relevant information. For example, a pharmacy will want different information than the World Health Organization (WHO).

Successful implementation of the project will require collaboration between governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), bodies like WHO and industry. PRTM has begun this process and is, for instance, working with the US Government on bio-institutional awareness.

The biggest obstacle is “a passive unwillingness to share data”. Organisations see few short-term incentives to increasing collaboration, said Harjivan, and “many governments work in an almost clandestine way”.

Biopharm benefits

Biopharm manufacturers could benefit from improved timeliness and effectiveness of pandemic responses. Earlier detection could cut pandemic strain isolation times, leading to vaccines being developed sooner, while better understanding of factors such as virulence is also beneficial.

Improving understanding of the nature of the outbreak supports “a more thoughtful response”, said Harjivan. This applies to a range of public health areas, from vaccine development and distribution to the use of communication campaigns to encourage hand-washing.

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