• Monday, July 15, 2024
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How we used spreadsheets to track COVID outbreak in real-time – Ihekweazu

How we used spreadsheets to track COVID outbreak in real-time – Ihekweazu

The disease expert leading the fight to win Nigeria away from the COVID-19 pandemic has credited the consistency at tracking outbreak data country-wide to the deployment of an analysis tool, Microsoft Excel.

Chike Ihekweazu, director-general, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), said the pandemic forced the centre to switch to full-scale adoption of the tool as a component of its Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS).

Before the outbreak, it had developed SORMAS, a digital tool for real-time disease reporting and surveillance, in all states and local government areas.

But it was only deployed in 14 states, Ihekweazu wrote in his viewpoint published by The Brookings Institution on ‘Investing in national public health institutes for future pandemics’.

Read Also: COVID-19 and Nigerian doctors

He highlighted strengthening public health laboratory services, emergency response activities, disease surveillance, and risk communications as key components fixed in the response to the challenge of capacity.

“The combination of the country’s tropical climate, population density, socioeconomic realities, and high cross-border movement provides a conducive environment for the emergence and re-emergence of infectious disease outbreaks,” Ihekweazu explained.

“In response to these ever-present threats, the NCDC as the country’s national public health institute leads the strengthening of its core health security capacity,” he said.

Being a country that harbours some of the largest burdens of public health challenges in the world, lessons from past experiences with the infectious disease came in handy in facing the current pandemic.

Between the 2014 Ebola crisis and the current COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria has responded to multiple, and sometimes concurrent outbreaks of Lassa fever, yellow fever, meningitis, monkeypox, measles, and cholera.

So, when COVID-19 struck, the centre had already built on those lessons from responding to Ebola and subsequent outbreaks to strengthen the country’s health security.

In 2016, for instance, the NCDC established a National Incident Coordination Centre for coordination of outbreak preparedness and response activities, followed by similar structures at the state level.

Then, in 2017, it operationalised the NCDC National Reference Laboratory and subsequent laboratory networks to reduce dependence on other countries for disease diagnoses.

These, Ihekweazu said, has enabled improved coordination of public health emergencies as well as strengthening the role of state governments in coordinating international partners supporting outbreak response.

Hence, in preparing for a future pandemic, global and national leaders must consider strategies to build resilience to such crises, especially mechanisms for coordinated, well-planned responses led by national public health institutes, Ihekweazu charged.

“COVID-19 is not the first pandemic of the 21st century, nor will it be the last. With climate change and several other environmental factors impacting the world today, vectors and animal reservoirs are spreading into new areas and having increased contact with humans, putting us at further risk,” the NCDC director-general said.

“Given their immense potential to protect and heal, we should be building and strengthening these science-led organisations. The only way that we can control the next pandemic is by re-building, starting now, and investing in NPHIs,” he said.