Global Public Health Intelligence Network

Early warning system detects risks/threats to humans

Mawudeku is Chief of Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response Public Health Agency of Canada. Her team uses the latest technology to spot threats to human life. Every day multilingual analysts comb through content from multiple sources including news aggregators like Factiva, that has been parsed for about 1000 or so concepts such as "mysterious ailments" and "outbreak."

Text mining helps with decision support & risk management

The GPHIN system uses Nstein's TME (Text Mining Engine) to assign relevancy scores to numerous articles coming from worldwide sources, and assigns a relevancy score to each article. TME also de-dupes redundant news articles. The system helps analysts count and track instances of possible threats. It is precisely this monitoring by organizations like GPHIN that triggers responses – such as WHO declaring H1N1 a geographic pandemic, which in turn hurries the development of vaccines.

Monitoring worldwide content sources

A recent National Post article cited GPHIN's importance to detecting global threats. Unlike its American counterpart ProMed, GPHIN does not just track diseases. The group monitors any threat to human life – natural or man-made: bush fires in California, pestilence outbreaks in Africa, even theft of nuclear elements. As such the Canadian team and its technology are monitoring more than 1000 types of human harms, around the globe. The team publishes eight different reports, three times a day. It is Mawudeku's group and the GPHIN system along with the American ProMed that assisted World Health Organization scientists in determining if an outbreak was contained or reaching pandemic.

Automation key to detecting threats and risks

"The job is a tremendously stressful one," said Mawudeku. "We are normally adding 4,000 articles a day. Right now (during the influenza outbreak), we are overwhelmed with more than 20,000 a day. It would be impossible to track this volume without technology – which is exactly what we were discussing when the alert came out."