Research consortium including Oxford University and Google.org announce new platform to track COVID-19 data
Google.org, the charitable arm of Google, the University of Oxford and other leading institutions including Boston Children’s Hospital and Northeastern University, today launched Global.health.
This first of its kind, open-access, global case data repository will enable informed public health decision making to tackle COVID-19, and to track its variants and future infectious diseases.
Global.health builds on an idea first initiated by University of Oxford researchers in January 2020, to build a COVID-19 database which pulls together anonymised data on as many individual cases as possible. Following early investment by the Oxford Martin School at the start of the pandemic, Google.org provided funding and a team of 10 fulltime Google.org Fellows and 7 part-time Google.org volunteers to scale up the project to a massive, open resource of verified case-level data from around the world. The Rockefeller Foundation has also provided funding to broaden the scope and scale of Global.health as an open data platform for digital epidemiology.
Timely access to organized, trustworthy and anonymized data is critical for public health leaders in order to inform early policy decisions, medical interventions, and allocations of resources - all of which can slow disease spread and save lives. Global.health combines expertise in epidemiology, public health, and data science to build a clean, standardised and geo-coded database for the pandemic, down to an individual case-by-case level. This open, anonymized dataset is unprecedented and will make key understandings for controlling and ending the COVID-19 pandemic, like tracking the R-number or epidemiological modelling, easier and more accurate.
It should also enable new types of analyses previously only possible for a selected few who gained access to countries’ ‘line list data’ - a table that contains key information about each case in an outbreak, tracking the disease by person, place and time. In the long term, researchers believe this platform could open the door to entirely new scientific insights around disease outbreaks and lead to a more collaborative future in science driven by openness and access to good quality data.
Dr Moritz Kraemer, Branco Weiss Research Fellow in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and an Associate of the Oxford Martin Programme on Pandemic Genomics said, “This is the global and scalable result of the ad-hoc work we started early last year when the world started to take notice of a new, emerging disease that we now know as COVID-19. Many of the initial scientific papers looking at what was happening with COVID all utilised this data framework, started in an excel spreadsheet with no funding, and we knew we needed to take it to a global scale.
“I see this as one of the first stepping stones to a more open and readily integrated disease surveillance system globally. Tackling COVID-19 has shown that we all need to step out of our disciplinary silos as medical doctors, virologists, or epidemiologists and bring all those disciplines together; data will play a key role in sharing knowledge and insights from these disciplines. By creating this ‘one stop shop’ for disease outbreak data, we hope that we can make that cooperation possible and ultimately prevent the next pandemic.”
Global.health includes data on the pandemic down to a case-by-case basis for around 20% of all globally reported infections. It contains highly detailed, but fully anonymised and unidentifiable data for individual cases including their location and travel history. The next step is to expand the database by encouraging open data sharing by more partners and data holders globally. Further, the computational infrastructure is scalable and adaptable to any other type of epidemiological data (clinical, genomic, etc.) thus providing a much needed technology for data sharing, locally and globally.
The platform makes this simple by using Machine Learning algorithms to put disparate databases into the same format and automatically geo-tag case-level data. This allows researchers around the world to focus on generating insights and understanding, rather than the painstaking process of systematising and cleaning data.
Global.health is now live for anyone to visit, use and work with. It has been created by Google.org fellows and researchers from Oxford, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Boston Children’s Hospital, Georgetown University, the University of Washington, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and is supported by Google.org, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.