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New index offers tool to monitor global disease outlook

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Published by: Homeland Prep News

A new global index offers an original way to monitor national-level preparedness for infectious disease, providing a holistic view of a country’s capacity to mitigate the spread of illness and pandemics.

Created by researchers at Metabiota, the Epidemic Preparedness Index (EPI) factors in a country’s economic resources, public health communications, infrastructure, public health systems and institutional capacity. The goal is that this information can be tailored to create tools for governments and public health groups to better respond during a health crisis. The publication of the index appeared in the BMJ Global Health.

“Infectious diseases were killing more people than some of the conventional threats I was dealing with,” said Ben Oppenheim, Metabiota senior scientistand lead author of the publication.

Oppenheim’s political science training helped fuel his pursuit of research on infectious disease and influenced the framework of the index, which considers topics such as economics in disease spread. As the paper states:

“During acute public health emergencies, health ministries as well as local government units may be required to rapidly scale up surveillance and health provision activities. This can lead to rapidly mounting costs, especially for personnel and consumables such as personal protective equipment and vaccines, which can be difficult to sustain without adequate resources.”

Outbreak events have generated several data streams, including economic information, which aren’t necessarily captured in other indexes in use, says Oppenheim. He added that the World Health Organization’s flagship assessment, the Joint External Evaluation, is powerful but only designed to be implemented infrequently.

The EPI is designed to update as new data become available, although Oppenheim says conflict and wars or other rapid-onset events can dictate more frequent revisions to the index.

“Sometimes the dynamics on the ground move quickly,” Oppenheim said. “When we initially designed the index, public health conditions in Syria hadn’t reached the crisis levels of today.”

The recent civil war in Syria has caused outbreaks ofpoliomyelitis, leishmaniasis, and measles, among other ailments. As a result of violence, weak institutions, and degraded public health infrastructure, Syria is among the lowest scoring countries globally.

One area the EPI measures is a country’s institutional capacity to provide security. Security might not be an obvious measure of risk in the infectious disease world, but health workers can’t do their job without protection from conflict.

“Sending response teams to provide clinical care requires the ability to move skilled personnel around,” Oppenheim said. “For whatever reason, security hasn’t been included in some of the preparedness metrics from before.”

EPI also quantifies risk communications, or the ability of health workers to disseminate information about diseases, such as going on airwaves to share information about an outbreak. The index measures whether professionals can provide information to the public about what’s causing the outbreak and ways to treat and protect themselves.

EPI is stored on a software platform of Metabiota. The firm has now published the EPI’s methodology in BMJ Global Health and is building enhancements to the index which will soon be available on the software platform.

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