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BioDiaspora among technologies redefining digital disease mapping

BioDLogo_whiteDr. Kamran Khan, founder of BioDiapsora, was cited in a New York Times‘ Bits article on the Big Data solutions evolving to track the global spread of disease: “In New Tools to Combat Epidemics, the Key is Context.”

Amy O’Leary‘s article appeared as part of a special blog/supplement on June 19, 2013 (Big Data 2013).

Here’s an excerpt (links and emphasis ours):

One of the doctors in the field who can benefit from these types of insights is Dr. Kamran Khan, an infectious disease specialist and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Dr. Khan, who said he had a “bad habit of being around emerging diseases,” has worked on the front lines of the 1999 West Nile virus outbreak and the H1N1 pandemic of 2009. But the event that hit closest to home was when his own hospital was affected by a deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which hit Toronto in 2003.

That spring, the city had received an infected passenger from Hong Kong who passed SARS to family members, activating quarantine measures across the city. Despite those efforts, 44 people eventually died across Canada, including two nurses and a doctor.

“No one wanted to come near you,” he said. “You quickly became an outcast in society.”

Once the outbreak was over, studies showed that cities like Toronto, with direct flights from Hong Kong, were 25 times as likely to record SARS cases as cities that could be reached only through a connecting flight. Cities that were two flight connections away from Hong Kong never observed a single case.

“It was this moment of recognizing the world is extremely interconnected,” Dr. Khan said.

That was the impetus for him to start digging for data on human movements around the globe in his project called BioDiaspora, from international air travel to large mass gatherings like the hajj, the Olympics or the World Cup.

Dr. Khan spent years negotiating with air traffic organizations, governments and airlines to amass a database of human movement around the globe, encompassing 4,000 airports and 30 million flights a year, carrying 2.5 billion passengers.

With that information, he can better predict the likelihood of where a single case of bird flu in Asia, for instance, might eventually surface on other continents.

The complete article is available on the New York Times‘ website.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, marketing and communications manager.