College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Open Data Analysis in Epidemiology Helps Control Outbreaks

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Pro Vice-Chancellor of Big Data and Informatics and South African Research Chair in Quantum Information Processing and Communication at UKZN, Professor Francesco Petruccione recently hosted a breakfast seminar titled COVID-19 Genomics and Epidemiology.

The seminar was presented by renowned UKZN bioinformatician, epidemiologist and Director of KRISP, Professor Tulio de Oliveira.

The presentation highlighted the importance of understanding the origins and transmission of the COVID-19 virus. It examined the chain and the speed of transmission from the first reported case in China in December 2019 to it becoming a global pandemic.

De Oliveira said that, although research indicates that transmission across countries like the United States is not well understood, what is more important at this stage is how states should approach and apply readily available genomics and epidemiology data by researchers for real-time analysis of data and use this information to control outbreaks.

‘This pandemic has raised the question of how research can speed up reaction and the turnaround speed when the public health sector is facing an emergency like COVID-19. Social media, ie, Twitter, open data, open analysis and quick data reviews amongst global research communities cannot be overemphasised. Open data has greatly assisted researchers to quickly analyse data and understand the genome and epidemiology of this virus,’ said de Oliveira whose laboratory at UKZN has been involved in efforts to understand COVID-19 since the beginning of January when he first saw tweets about the virus from researchers based in the United Kingdom.

‘This proves how powerful Big/Open Data is in advancing global research and other critical spheres of life,’ commented Petruccione.

Words: Lihle Sosibo

Photographs: Supplied