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Can Big Data From Epic Indian Pilgrimage Help Save Lives?

on 2013/2/12 4:23:37 ( 2066 reads )


ALLAHABAD, INDIA, February 8, 2013 (NY Times): The South Asia Institute at Harvard has sent a team of public health specialists to one of the largest gatherings in the world, the Kumbh Mela in India, with a goal of assembling the largest public health data set ever among a transient population.

The pilgrims are there to bathe. The epidemiologists are there to study their health. They are analyzing data from the four hospitals that cater to the congregants to try to gauge who is ailing from what and when. By mapping "complaints, diagnoses, medications and geographical origins of patients," the researchers said, they hope to discover disease outbreaks and patterns.

The real-time surveillance, the researchers say, could be useful if disease breaks out this time and to plan for future Kumbh Melas. It could hold lessons for other countries looking to tap the power of data for public health.

"This will be the largest data set of its kind in a temporary mass gathering, its size allowing us to develop new metrics for detecting epidemics when total population size fluctuates widely from day to day," said Dr. Satchit Balsari, a fellow at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard and a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

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