Picture: Russell Regnery/Cdc Cynthia S. Goldsmith/Via Reuters

As the world is recovering from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, another virus, Monkeypox, is afflicting public health communities around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO), in a recent statement, reported that approximately 257 confirmed cases of Monkeypox have been reported across 23 UN member states. Unlike Covid-19, Monkeypox is not a new virus. It was first transmitted to humans from animals. This virus belongs to the Orthopoxvirus genus. The first case of the virus was identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s. 

Humans have little to no immunity to the Monkeypox virus. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of the illness include fever, headache, muscle aches, backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, and exhaustion. The illness typically lasts for 2-4 weeks before subsiding. Closely surveilling the Monkeypox outbreak, the WHO said that the risk at present posed by Monkeypox is low. The WHO encouraged “immediate action from countries to control further spread among groups at risk, prevent spread to the general population .”  There have not been any fatalities since the May 2022 outbreak, and people have reported relatively mild symptoms.

The fragmented and inequitable international Covid-19 pandemic response and lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic have driven the need for more coordinated and engaged pandemic responses amongst UN member states. Last year, the WHO encouraged countries worldwide to join its “One Health Approach.” This approach enables environmental, human, and animal sectors to collaborate and communicate with rural, urban, regional, and local communities. The One Health Approach helps build the capacities and capabilities of UN member states. This approach enables healthcare systems to promote healthy animals, biodiverse ecosystems, and vibrant and healthy human societies. 

As the world responds to Monkeypox outbreaks and other zoonotic viruses of the future, the need for agile and iterative machine learning models is critical. Scientists have acknowledged the need to model, predict, surveil and understand the disease and its spread is vital for future global efforts in tracking viruses.  

Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and Agile Approaches to disease surveillance inform and transform medical efforts. Instead of working in silos, today’s healthcare teams include Data Scientists, Physicians, epidemiologists, and Data Analysts. These data-literate experts collaborate on Big Data initiatives to quickly understand disease outbreaks using advanced technologies. 

One such example of these initiatives is the MonkeyPox Tracker built by HealthMap.org, a collaborative between Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. In the aftermath of recent outbreaks of Monkeypox emerging in early May, HealthMap, in an agile fashion, rolled out its Monkeypox Tracker in mid-May 2022. MonkeyPox Tracker brings together structured and unstructured data. The tracker leverages Artificial Intelligence domains such as Text Analytics, Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to aggregate disparate data sources such as news articles, eyewitness reports,  validated official health alerts and curated expert discussions to build an interactive geospatial real-time data-driven map of the Monkeypox disease. 

Research published in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association classifies tools such as HealthMap as “significantly useful in processing large amounts of healthcare information” and accurately associating and identifying disease outbreak information in user-friendly interfaces consumable for diverse audiences. Data visualization and advanced big data tools such as the Monkeypox tracker are the way of the future. These tools and agile data-driven approaches to disease mapping and tracking will continue to inform surveillance and reporting efforts. These healthcare analytical tools will continue to help civil society, government officials, physicians and public health agencies worldwide as they mobilize and collaborate to prevent further pandemics and present a global coordinated effort to enforce the United Nations, “One Health Approach.”

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