Sunday, October 26, 2008

1st PHI Workshop at Mahidol: Collaborations in Public Health Informatics among MBDS and SEAMEO Countries

Nico and I were invited to present at the 1st Workshop on Public Health Informatics organized by Center for Excellence for Biomedical and Public Health Informatics (BIOPHICS), Faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand (Sep 29-Oct 10, 2008). The workshop was co-organized by University of Washington and the Rockefeller Foundation. This two-week workshop introduced the discipline of public health informatics to an elite group of public health and information technology experts from the MBDS and SEAMEO countries (Vietnam, Yunnan, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, etc.) The course included topics on the application of latest advancements in information science and technology in supporting public health practice, education and research.

On the morning of Thursday October 9, 2008, Nico and I gave 3 lectures on the application of machine learning for early detection and response, Open Source movement and licensing, and discussed various Open Source applications for public health. We introduced biosurveillance, its current challenges and limitations, and proposed a practical “collaborative approach” for effective early disease detection and response from local, national, and global perspectives.

We then had a lunch break with Assoc. Prof. Pratap Singhasivanon, Dean of Faculty of Tropical Medicine who also supervises BIOPHICS. We discussed with Dr. Pratap InSTEDD’s role in the region and the MBDS, the various projects and technology tools currently underway, the innovation lab model, and our gratitude for extending his invitation to us to present at the 1st PHI course.

We spent the majority of the afternoon in the computer lab where we offered hands-on training on various Open Source tools and projects, their implication to public health, and their role in the MBDS region. We also used this opportunity to introduce InSTEDD’s tools including: Mesh4X, Geochat (Overview, Details and source), Riff and RNA.

At the end of day, we had a quick tour of BIOPHICS and its various state-of-the art projects. We were briefed of BIOPHICS multi-clinical trials center (several million patients), observational studies and disease registry, and had a tour of the BIOPHICS data center. The clinical trials ranged from PK study, Phase I to Phase III studies, and Phase IV monitoring adverse drug reaction (ADR). We were also offered a demonstration of a versatile and mobile patient tracking system. Other services include computerized system development for disease surveillance and medical/laboratory data. BIOPHICS has experts in basic science, health science, public health, medical and information sciences and they offer various consulting services related to applications of genetics statistics, bioinformatics and clinical informatics.

On Friday October 10, 2008, each country had a representative speaker from their group who presented on their country's current challenges in disease surveillance and response, what they learned from the workshop, and how best to apply that to address the current system's limitations and challenges.

We were pleased to see how InSTEDD's tools and “collaborative” approach was mentioned in various discussions and considered to be part of the solution (Picture: The Cambodian team presented on their future solution and suggested using various InSTEDD tools and technologies as part of this solution.)

Afterwards, Nico and I sat on a final panel discussion that addressed participants’ questions with regards to the material presented during the workshop. We received various questions on the role of Geochat and SMS in enhancing and augmenting current surveillance and response activities in the MBDS and SEAMEO countries. Given the fact that text-messaging solutions can be cost-prohibitive for many localities, we discussed how Geochat’s “Gateway” offers an affordable alternative—requiring coordination between mobile providers and government agencies—and more features than regular text-messaging provided by local mobile companies.

We then concluded the session with graduation ceremony where participants received their certificate in PHI, the first for the region! Congrats!

After graduation, Dr. Moe Ko Oo, (Regional Coordinator for the MBDS project), Dr. Yin Myo Aye (Data Analyst & Manager for the MBDS project) and I had a meeting to further discuss the project and InSTEDD's contribution to the region. During the workshop we introduced various open source efforts projects; in particular we discussed two efforts which aggregate news media and ProMed reports, HealthMap and BioCaster. Dr. Moe and I discussed the importance of providing situation awareness capacity for the MBDS region by extending these efforts from detection into response. We discussed in details; as I mentioned in a previous blog, how the majority of current systems have been geared towards specific data sources and detection algorithms but much less effort has been focused on how these systems will "interact" with humans. Dr. Moe was very keen towards our “collaborative” approach, and I quote: “HealthMap, the data they are presenting in their web is good for us to know, but we would like to see more on it” and that efforts as such should offer a “…better analytical way for future planning and advocacy purpose.” We also discussed how our approach could further refine and enhance classification of health events especially at the earliest stages of an infectious disease outbreak. I had a follow-up discussion with Dr. John Browntein and his team is working with ProMed (recent grant from Google (healthMap/ProMed) through the Google Predict and Prevent initiative) on extending the current HealthMap platform to incorporate collaborative tools.

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