As part of our ongoing series on using Research, Data and Information Management to contain and curb the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, Rise Networks hosted a Live Twitter chat with Emeka Azuka Okoye, a Knowledge Scientist in Open Data and Semantic Artificial Intelligence and a Member of the Rise Networks Advisory Board at 3pm on Friday 20th March 2020.

Below are the excerpts from the conversation:

As at 11:42am today, there have been 245,484 confirmed cases globally, 10,031 fatalities and 86,035 recoveries. In Nigeria here we have had 12 confirmed cases, no fatalities and 1 recovery. What does the data on deaths and cases tell us about the mortality risk of COVID-19?  

Data is telling us that covid-19 is being empowered by our social lifestyle, quality of healthy living, standard of institutions managing the sector and seriousness of governments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countries like Israel, China, and the USA are using data science to fight the pandemic. Can data science help us to identify, track and forecast outbreaks?

Yes. Data Science can identity, track and forecast disease outbreaks where data on incidences are valuable publicly. Like Open Data (data that anyone can access, use and share to bring about social,economic change) can have information on incidences that researchers, scientists can use to make inference on patterns that they observe. It can track victims and understand social behaviors of the geographic region to make predictions on outcomes. It is key we embrace Open Data so we can be proactive in dealing with disease incidences like this. These countries have a strong data culture so its easy to monitor and predict diseases incidence using public data assets they share and tapping into the wisdom of the crowd called called crowd sourcing.

With tech giants like Google, Microsoft, leading the research on how data science can help, what are the ways data science can help with the global pandemic?

Organizations, researchers, scientists, data scientists are in unison trying to solve the COVID19 challenge and data is at the foundation of this. Lots of the virus gene has been sequenced and uploaded to github for the the whole world to have access to it. I am happy to say that Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has sequenced (first in Africa) and shared on GitHub. These gene sequences, over 100 are available for those working on the solution. Microsoft Research and White House Science and Tech and others have released a repository of over 24,000 scholarly papers and research materials on CoronaVirus so that we can use machine learning and other Artificial Intelligence methods to find patterns that will lead to a cure. The big tech companies are using their algorithms to build models that will lead to insights that will reveal the solutions needed to cure the virus. Researchers all over the world are participating in OpenData sharing and scientific communications are now on blogs, GitHub. Modeling groups are sharing their insights. The barrier for entry is low enough for Nigeria to participate and create value for our society.

In Nigeria, the first confirmed case of CoronaVirus was reported on 27th of February, 2020, On 9 March 2020, a second case of the virus was reported, On 17 March 2020, The Lagos State Ministry of Health confirmed the third case. According to these available data, how long did it take for the number of confirmed cases to double?

It took less than 2 weeks but Nigeria has a low incidence rate 0.06/million which makes Nigeria the 5th or 6th best country in the world. We have to give Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) accolade for their strides in keeping it this low but that doesn’t mean that there is not much work to be done Nigeria needs to do more on educating the public on what needs to be done in at least 3 local languages. This is where ministry of information comes in, for instance there are 25 million primary school pupils with over 4 million secondary school students in Nigeria. We could have taught them basic information and knowledge required for survival, healthy lifestyle, social distancing and first aid before shutting down the schools. Think about the impact of 30 million knowledgeable children in our 40 million households. That is we use our children as nodes to share information. Nigeria is a challenged society, we have 5 hospital beds per 10,000 people which makes our total beds at 100,000. If we are to plan for a pandemic we are limited. So we can aim to turn the AirBNB model upside down by creating a hospital bed in each household with knowledge driven into these households from children we are better equipped to handle disasters. Information management from the information ministry and education ministry is required to make this happen. In this our present oil conundrum, why can’t the government of Nigeria challenge our universities to work on a cure for COVID19? This is another opportunity to exploit science to boost economic growth and build competency in bioinformatics and computational biology etc.

How realistic are the solutions data provides on a scale of 1 to 10?

Drugs are created with data, it makes drug development and discovery faster. So it is a 10. In some countries, people are expected to share travel history, temperatures to the authorities servers where algorithms are deployed to analyse the data and generate their risks or likelihood of getting infected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Popular approaches like using mobile data of the infected people are being adopted in countries like Israel. What are the side effects of implementing these approaches?

On the condition that Personal Identification Information (PII) is not included, insight derived from such analysis is useful for prevention and management of the pandemic. It can be used for enforcing social distancing too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Nigeria, the available data suggests that there are about 172 million mobile subscribers; can the approaches work in the Nigerian clime?

For now, SMS is our only option. Let’s not forget that we are literacy challenged. Using our school children would have been a better option in my humble opinion.

Though you mentioned earlier some ways government can help. Please expatiate further on What roles the government can play in implementing these data science approaches in combating this pandemic?

First, Government should embrace Open Data, with open data government would have published an inventory of assets and inventory in the health sector enabling entrepreneurs and data scientists to come up with solutions for the gaps. Secondly, Govt should publish movement data of victims and their contacts. Data Science could be used to create solutions to check one’s risks and exposure to the disease. Govt need to also publish how long the virus can exist in the air and on surfaces too. This will aid decisions & solutions on where one can go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There will be companies that would face economic downturn due to the outbreak, citizens impacted negatively as a result of the pandemic, what are the data the government needs to collect in order to create a relevant economic stimulus package for people?

Wow! They need all data. This is the time to know if the government really know their citizens. Data models are needed to evaluate effect of our social behaviours on social distancing, being infected with the virus and a close family member or dependent exposed to covid19. We need to understand that a lot of people are in economic strata that can’t afford to isolate themselves for more than 24 hours or exhibit social distancing. These are threats to the well being of others too. They need to be helped. This is where data comes in.Having a medical database of all Nigerian citizens is a precondition for implementing any stimulus package. Anything outside that would be tantamount to BAT distributing wads of Naira notes from his bullion van to thugs. Problem is, some would go home with more cash than others. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is being effort globally to develop a vaccine for this new pandemic. Is there any data to lets us know if people develop immunity after taken the vaccine?

Not to my knowledge. The medical folks would know more about this.

With the rate the pandemic is spreading, the pandemic could reach a natural end when it finally spreads to nearly every part of the world and no longer has anywhere else to go. Can we use data to know how does this ends?

Yes. Same way we know we have eradicated polio or the same way we know wuhan is now free of the virus. Yes, data will tell us the story.

The idea behind quarantine is to isolate people who are or may be infected, in order to prevent them from transmitting the illness to others. How is quarantine supposed to work from the data available?

If we had sensitized the people enough, isolation would have been crowd sourced effort. Those likely to be infected would have been “forced” into isolation from family members who understand the risks and don’t want to be exposed. Education would have been the best solution in my humble opinion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One last question sir before we draw the curtain on this enlightening chat. Are there available data to suggest that people recovered from the coronavirus infection after being quarantined?

Yes. We can see this data from worldometer for all infected countries by visting this link. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries 

Thank you very much sir for your time. This was very enlightening. We do appreciate you making time to answer all our questions.