March 19th, 2008 | Published in Google.org
Undeterred by Atlanta's recent bout of bad weather, 2500 delegates from around the globe arrived on Sunday to participate in the sixth International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases. Practitioners and researchers representing the fields of human health, epidemiology, veterinary medicine, ecosystem science and more, convened to discuss the drivers of emerging infectious diseases and strategies to improve our capacity to detect and respond to threats.
Dr. Larry Brilliant, Google.org's executive director, delivered a plenary address to a packed auditorium on Monday morning. His speech described novel techniques within surveillance and modeling that might allow us to shift our interventions "two steps to the left" of where we are today.
Dr. Brilliant spoke about the use of Internet and mobile technology to improve our digital detection of diseases. He highlighted HealthMap as an example of an organization that is using online data sources to produce a global disease alert map. Dr. Brilliant also noted the importance of using new technologies for genetic detection. We know, for example, that over two-thirds of all new emerging diseases are of animal origin. By collecting and analyzing samples at the human/animal interface, we can begin to discover new viruses and study how they are able to jump species. He also discussed vulnerability mapping, a means to identify hot spots at increased risk. By integrating data on landscape, ecosystem dynamics, climate, and demographics we might be able to identify areas of the world where diseases are most likely to emerge, allowing for more targeted surveillance and preparedness activities.
Through our very own Predict and Prevent initiative, Google.org hopes to work with the public health community to move toward developing and adopting these more proactive approaches.