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Health + Tech | Dengue lesson - Real-time data needed for disaster and crisis management

Published:Thursday | January 10, 2019 | 12:00 AMDoug Halsall
Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie (left) speaking at a press conference called to announce that the island is facing a dengue outbreak. looking on are Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton (centre) and Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health.
Doug Halsall

There are myriad things that we have yet to explore to uncover the benefits of technology in health.

One of them is how we can achieve an interconnected and efficient multiagency disaster and crisis preparation and response mechanism.

Health is integral to any disaster response, and so the first step would be to achieve an interconnected health system. By this I mean a system by which both private- and public-sector health interests can have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to patient care.

This is the basic part of a comprehensive disaster management response, which can easily be achieved. The University Hospital of the West Indies and many private physicians are already digitised. Most health technology can be integrated, which simply means that aspects of either operation can speak to each other and share information efficiently.

If the Government facilities were to come on board, it would mean a massive improvement in what is offered today by way of healthcare, efficiency, and accessibility of service.

Most health events have multisector implications. For example, there is invariably a financial component with funding requirements for the particular response. Depending on the issue, the police and military could also be involved and, of course, the private sector, because where human resource is affected, business is affected.


Lead Agency


Most times, the health sector has to lead preparation and response because most emergencies and disasters - floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions - usually have major health implications, and the health ministry is usually the lead agency for these. However, the information garnered through health can guide the financial and other requirements.

I have been listening to the various reports of a dengue outbreak and the indication from the Ministry of Health that there have indeed been increased cases in recent months, especially in comparison to the previous year.

By now, we are all aware of diseases for which cases increase seasonally, and so one would think we should always be prepared since we can pretty much make some predictions. However, unfortunately, each year, we see that this is not necessarily the case for a number of reasons, resources perhaps being one of them, with accuracy and quick and easy accessibility of data another.

It would help if we were consistently able to keep track of the holistic health situation in the country with ease on a daily basis, using actual real-time data. This would help to devise improved strategies that can seek the input of citizens before the problem becomes urgent.

This takes us right where we started, with the need to have an interconnected system, starting with the health sector that can alert the Government to any changes that seem to indicate the beginning of an issue.

Things like a particular type of medication being accessed more than usual at pharmacies, workers out of work for similar reasons, an increase in visits to health facilities for a particular complaint, and a number of other factors. Alone, some of these may not raise a red flag, but if all the systems were able to communicate, we would see a bigger picture, which could activate a certain response.


Early Warning System


Thankfully, the health technology we have today can indeed be used to create an early warning system for infectious and communicable diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, zika, influenza, gastroenteritis, and others, while enabling us to craft an efficient preparedness and response mechanism.

The systems we have in place can quickly give you a picture of which diseases are circulating by day, if you want to narrow it down to that, as well as the areas that are most affected. The Ministry of Health can have its finger on the pulse of health-related activities in every area of care across the island if we should digitise all facilities and ensure that there is proper integration across each area of specialisation.

The parts are already available and can be interconnected - pharmacy, lab, radiology, general practice, hospital, dental - and they can all communicate, whether in public or private practice, to give us a bigger picture and assist in holistic preparation and response.

The data are there to be mined. We just need to make use of it.

 - Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Send feedback to