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Coronavirus: How data visualisation could build resilience against future pandemics

Qlik.org has been working as part of a collaborative private sector effort to better analyse epidemic information. This could help build resilience against Covid-19, and similar viruses

Qlik.org, the philanthropic wing of the Sweden-based data visualisation supplier, has been working as part of a collaborative private sector effort to better analyse epidemic information.

The group, called the Private Sector Roundtable, involves GE, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Merck, as well as Qlik. It was set up by Alan Tennenberg, of Johnson & Johnson, and David Barash, of the GE Foundation, following the Ebola crisis in West Africa from 2014-16.

Julie Kae, executive director and global head of corporate responsibility at Qlik.org, says the role of the PSRT is to provide a collective organisation for NGOs – such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – to engage with.

It supports the goals of the “Global Health Security Agenda”, which is a group of 15 countries, international organisations, and NGOs, as well as private sector companies.

Its chairman, Roland Driece, says on the GHSA website: “When the international community comes through this [Covid-19] outbreak, GHSA will lead partnerships to incorporate lessons and implement new resilience measures.

“Because disease is a natural part of our world, it’s not a question of if but when the next outbreak will be,” he says.

Kae gave as an example of the software donation that Qlik has done through the PSRT, an app they built to render the data locked in WHO PDFs more analysable. These PDFs are lengthy reports on how countries are positioned with respect to health security, and they embody months of work by 30-40 people.

Read more about the Covid-19 pandemic and data analytics

With respect to coronavirus, this sort of work will help with resilience for the future, she says. Live data science on the virus and its spread is more the provenance of the likes of the John Hopkins University of Medicine in the US and, in the UK, the experts feeding into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, including the Imperial College, London Covid-19 Response Team.

Kae says Qlik’s “ability to blend data from disparate sources in associative models is useful for these type of problems” where data scientists are using machine learning on data sets – epidemiological, in the case of Ebola and Covid-19. But the work of the PSRT is more about strengthening health systems in the most vulnerable areas around the planet ahead of the next outbreak.

Qlik.org is also working with other NGOs, such as the charity Direct Relief which will combine supply chain data with Coronavirus data in a dashboard to help it prioritise where Covid-19 items, such as gloves, masks, gowns, and other protective equipment should be sent.

Value in software

Kae says when Qlik launched its CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) arm around eight years ago, they decided the “greatest value would be in our software. The not for profit sector was still dominated by spreadsheets at that time. It was very manual. We started with a handful of nonprofits, helping them to make their donation campaigns more effective.”

The campaign development team at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital is one such beneficiary of the data visualisation software. And there are others, such as the C40 Cities Leadership Group and Team Rubicon Disaster Response.

Kae says of the current Covid-19 epidemic: “It will end. All countries can recover and will learn from it. There is now so much attention on the coronavirus. But none of our other problems have gone away. Cancer research, diabetes research, and so on – funding for those will be disrupted so need they will need data analytics more than ever.

“And, yes, we need to support the NGOs that are fighting Covid-19,” she says. “But we need to keep supporting those that are providing so many emergency services around the world. Everything has not stopped. There are vulnerable populations that have and will have Coronavirus on top.”

Kae is also involved with WeSeeHope, a UK-based charity of which she founded the US arm in 2016, which is focused on vulnerable children in Southern and Eastern Africa. Their fund-raising event in June has had to be cancelled because of coronavirus, just as marathons, like Boston’s and London’s, are having to be moved. This means that charities whose funds are collateral damage of Covid-19 need to use analytics better to understand what they can keep supporting.

“If you are a charity and need data analytics support, we are a resource,” she says.

Read more on Big data analytics

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