Friday, January 25, 2008

What is Biosurveillance? What is InSTEDD's Role?

Dating back to Hippocrates, biosurveillance, the detection and observation of disease outbreaks, is not an entirely new concept. In recent history, the geographical isolation between plants and animals has been gradually broken by the intentional or natural transport of organisms caused by human travel, tourism or trade. Today, the rate at which species are moving between different bio-geographic regions is unprecedented, resulting in adverse ecological, economic, and human health consequences. Additionally, global environmental changes have continued to grow rapidly throughout the past five years. These changes for example to climate, transport networks, disease pathogens and their vectors do not respect administrative boundaries and their influences and impacts are best addressed at the global scale. These factors have contributed to an environment where a new disease threat can spread globally within hours and days.

Over the last decade, automated biosurveillance systems have been developed to provide more timely detection of disease outbreaks by monitoring clinical systems and other sources. To date, the bulk of these systems have been regionally deployed, limited to areas where clinical data is readily available, and internet connectivity and high bandwidth are widespread. Unfortunately, these systems do not support regions of low bandwidth, limited connectivity, and sparse use of clinical information systems-the regions where globe-threatening outbreaks typically originate and where timely interventions are most needed. What is needed now is a global information infrastructure and scientific methods to support timely detection and monitoring of events world-wide, as close to real time as possible.

InSTEDD is working with its partners on addressing these problems and promise of timely biosurveillance. InSTEDD's suite of technologies and informatics approach will have a global reach that will revolutionize retrieval and integration of information across multiple disciplines, and will have a high degree of penetration into regions were enhanced biosurveillance is sorely needed. InSTEDD is taking the ancient art of biosurveillance to the global level, focusing on key biosurveillance targets such as Infectious and Respiratory Diseases (Influenza, Malaria, West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease (in animals is indicative of global warming), Rift Valley Fever, Schistosomiasis (schis·to·so·mi·a·sis (shĭs'tə-sə-mī'ə-sĭs)), Asthma)), Extreme Weather Events (heat waves and floods), and Natural and Managed Systems (forests, agriculture, marine ecosystems, and water).

Finally, I leave you with this historic map -
John Snow used statistics to argue that "something was in the water" -- although no one had yet identified cholera.

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