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Fiocruz begins pandemic intelligence work in partnership with WHO


Pamela Lang (Fiocruz News Agency)


After an intense institutional agenda during the World Health Summit in Berlin, the Fiocruz delegation, accompanied by president Mario Moreira, made its first official visit to the World Health Organization (WHO) Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence, based in the German capital. The Foundation has been an integral part of the Hub, since May of this year, when it signed a memorandum of understanding with the WHO to collaborate with the initiative in the development and expansion of surveillance tools at a global level.

The meeting, which took place on October 18th, brought together teams from Fiocruz and the WHO to start drawing up a joint work plan. "Based on all the expertise already accumulated by our professionals, we understand that Fiocruz can contribute, from the hub's perspective, both to the development and implementation of surveillance tools in other countries, as well as, in a previous stage, to the development of information systems, in a structuring cooperation model, in countries that still lack consistent databases", highlighted president Mario Moreira.

At the meeting, teams from Fiocruz and WHO started drawing up a joint work plan 

For WHO assistant director-general and head of the Hub, Chikwe Ihekweazu, the need to join forces to support countries in developing surveillance tools has been the focus of a global debate. "This is a question that has come up in various forums. Fiocruz's expectations are perfectly aligned with the Hub's objectives", says Chikwe.

The president of Fiocruz also highlighted the need to include, in the work plan, the possibility of adapting the Alert-Early System of Outbreaks with Epi-Pandemic Potential (Aesop) so that it could be tested in one African and one Latin American country. The platform, launched this year by the Center for Integration of Data and Knowledge for Health (Cidacs/Fiocruz), seeks to track outbreaks at an early stage, using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to integrate different data sources. A new meeting is planned for December, this time at Fiocruz, with members of the Hub to assess the activities being carried out under the partnership and to further develop the work plan.

Fiocruz reinforces the search for equity in the development of surveillance systems

According to the researchers involved in the partnership, one of the central objectives of the Hub is to identify tools whose components can be adapted and used in other situations and countries with different surveillance systems. In other words, it is not a question of implementing a tool already developed by Fiocruz in other countries, but of identifying elements of the platform that can be adapted and combined with others to collaboratively build something that meets surveillance needs in certain countries.

"The Hub's role, here, is to identify the latest developments in this area so that the WHO, through its different partners, can serve as a kind of provider of methods and systems for different countries. And this is related to the search for greater equity in the world, so that the capacity for action in epidemiological surveillance is not restricted to just a few countries already with greater investment in the field. The idea is that this set of information and methodologies can be adapted and implemented in different places, with different realities", says Marcelo Gomes, researcher at the Scientific Computing Program (Procc/Fiocruz) and coordinator of InfoGripe. A physics graduate and a data scientist with an emphasis on epidemiology, Marcelo Gomes was responsible for initiating the technical management of the work in partnership with the Hub. The researcher arrived in Berlin at the beginning of October and will return to Fiocruz on the 28th of this month.

Researcher at the Scientific Computing Program (Procc/Fiocruz) and coordinator of InfoGripe, Marcelo Gomes was responsible for initiating the technical management of the work in partnership with the Hub

For him, Fiocruz has been playing a leading role both in Brazil and abroad in the area of modeling and development of analytical methods, especially with a focus on epidemiological surveillance systems. "The idea of working with modeling in surveillance is to be able to identify when things are going out of the ordinary and trigger alerts, so that the public health authorities can adapt, when necessary, their service structure and implement actions with the population. The exchange of experiences here at the Hub has been extremely fruitful. One example is the worrying leishmaniasis situation in Vanuatu. The WHO Hub invited Fiocruz, through the Procc, to take part in this collective effort to support local authorities in taking ownership of these surveillance methodologies and developing systems that are appropriate to the local reality, so that they can carry out adequate monitoring and have the best possible response", explains the researcher.

In the interaction with the WHO Hub, some platforms developed by Fiocruz have been considered strategic in contributing to the field of global health surveillance:

Alert-Early System of Outbreaks with Epi-Pandemic Potential (Aesop): developed by the Center for Integration of Data and Knowledge for Health (Cidacs/Fiocruz) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). It enables tracking early-stage outbreaks in a single system, integrating data collected from Primary Care with other sources of health, environmental and socio-demographic data, including drug sales and rumors on social networks. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to identify areas where the disease is spreading.

Cidacs Clima - Climate, Environmental and Health Data Platform: still in the early stages of development by the Center for Integration of Data and Knowledge for Health (Cidacs/Fiocruz). It is a platform that seeks to integrate climate and ecosystem, socio-economic, geographic and modeling data to answer to scientific questions about the interaction between health and climate.

InfoDengue and InfoGripe: systems developed by Fiocruz's Scientific Computing Program (Procc) and the Getúlio Vargas Foundation's School of Applied Mathematics (EMAp/FGV) to monitor arboviruses and respiratory diseases, respectively. The systems work based on their approaches: surveillance and modeling. Surveillance allows the monitoring of severe respiratory infections and arboviruses, defining a framework of the moment. Modeling, on the other hand, refers to the production of statistical and computational models to understand the viruses' behavior in the past and, thereon, be able to estimate their future behavior in the short term.

Wild Health Information System (Siss-Geo): participatory surveillance system for zoonosis emergencies developed by the Biodiversity and Wild Health Institutional Platform (Pibs/Fiocruz) with support from the National Laboratory for Scientific Computing (LNCC). It allows estimating the likelihood of zoonoses emerging. Based on the recording of fauna by employees present throughout Brazil, the system operates using georeferencing and generates alerts for managers in real time whenever any abnormality is observed. The managers then take their team into the field to collect the animal and biological samples, which are taken to the laboratory for analysis.

Read more: Fiocruz has an outstanding participation in the World Health Summit in Berlin

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