BSC participates in the first observatory based on Big Data and artificial intelligence to detect and prevent future epidemics

17 July 2020
The initiative involves the Catalan Government, medical and health institutions, leading technological research centers, mobile phone operators and the MWCapital.

BSC will collaborate both in research and in the provision of computing infrastructure

The objective is to provide public health organizations with a decision support system based on innovative epidemiological models to anticipate epidemics and improve management

Catalonia today has the first State Epidemiological Observatory that will use Big Data and artificial intelligence techniques to generate a new collection of innovative epidemiological models for public health institutions that help them prevent, detect early, and mitigate the spread of epidemics.

This public-private initiative, which is part of the Catalonia.AI strategy, joins the efforts of the Catalan Government, medical and health institutions (Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital and Fundación Lucha contra el Sida), leading technological research centres (BSC, CIDA, Eurecat, URV and CSIC), mobile phone operators (Telefónica, Orange and GSMA) and Mobile World Capital Barcelona.

The Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) is one of the participating centres and its task will be to collaborate in the development of a pandemic model for future prevention, including all data sources, and also in the storage of data, computing, health data management and meteorological data computing

In the BSC Life Science department, an integrated geographic information system is being developed that includes COVID-19 case data, hospital situations, population data, weather data, and mobility patterns between regions.

Given the heterogeneity and complexity of the data, tools are being developed for the analysis and visualization of information based on the analysis of complex networks and time series. In a complementary way and in collaboration with the group led by Dr. Prof. Alex Arenas of the Rovira i Virgili University, the information system is being used to calibrate and validate predictive epidemiological models.

The objective of the initiative is to develop and provide an integrated information system that allows, on the one hand, to generate periodic reports to monitor the health situation. And, on the other hand, it is oriented to the development and application of epidemiological models as a tool to assist decision-making by health authorities.

Big Data for the prevention of epidemics

The creation of the Epidemiological Observatory consists of two phases (corresponding to the years 2020 and 2021, respectively), the first of which will consist of creating and analyzing a mathematical model to compare and predict specific patterns of epidemics, from influenza and COVID-19. This is the objective of the Observatory's first research project, 'Big Data for the prevention of epidemics', which will apply Big Data technology and artificial intelligence to clinical data, mobile phone data, census data and meteorological data. The treatment of all the data will be done at all times in anonymized form and in no case will it imply traceability of the users. The first results of this phase can be seen in the fall.

This project aims, on the one hand, a massive improvement in the model of pandemic spread thanks to the inclusion of clinical, mobile, census and climatological data, and on the other hand, to provide public health organizations with a support system in decision-making based on innovative epidemiological models that allow them to anticipate and draw up a plan to face epidemics, as well as improve the management of public resources in areas such as the health system, mobility, education, etc., adapting them to real needs.

Treatment of data and privacy of people

One of the priorities of this Observatory is to define and implement a data processing model that fully guarantees the privacy of individuals. In this sense, in order to study the transmission of the virus, we will work with aggregate mobility data, and not individual data, following the recommendations and best practices of the European Commission regarding the use of mobile data to combat COVID -19.

The budget associated with the Observatory is € 600,000 for the two planned years of the project, to which must be added the costs of transferring data from mobile operators in phase 2 (in phase 1 they are transferred free of charge). The Catalan Government will finance 50% of the project and the rest will be provided by participating partners and external funds through competitive calls.

The Observatory will be located at the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital (HGTiP) and will have the scientific coordination of Dr. Bonaventura Clotet, head of the HGTiP Infectious Diseases Service and president of the Fight Against AIDS Foundation (FLS).

Further information here