Go.Data, the WHO tool to track infected people and their contacts

by Kelvin
Go.Data, the WHO tool to track infected people and their contacts

The emergence of COVID-19 has forced us to rethink many aspects of our daily life. If a few months ago someone had predicted the confinement and health consequences of a pandemic like the current one, we would have associated it with a science fiction movie or at most something that can happen in places very distant from ours.

An example of such distant epidemic cases is the Ebola disease outbreak spread mainly in some regions of Africa in 2014.

  

Following this dramatic experience, in 2015 an initiative emerged from a group of public health entities, coordinated by the World Health Organization and managed by the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. One of its fruits was Go.Data, an outbreak investigation tool for tracking contacts during public health emergencies.

Explanatory video about the Go.Data tool.

What is contact tracking?

Epidemiologists have insisted from the beginning on the three key pillars for controlling an epidemic like COVID-19: mass testing, contact tracing, and isolation. Tracking contacts is the goal of Go.Data.

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Those who are in contact with someone infected by the virus are at very high risk of becoming infected and also of infecting third parties. Therefore, it is key to observe these contacts after exposure to an infected person. On the one hand, it helps provide the necessary care and, on the other, it prevents further transmission of the virus.

This follow-up process is called contact tracing and can be divided into three stages:

  1. Identification of contacts. After confirming that someone is infected with a virus, their movements are investigated and those physically close are identified at some point from the beginning of their infection. They can be family, friends, coworkers, but also people who have been in the same places, such as shops or public transport, for example.
  2. Contact list. A list is drawn up that includes all these previously identified people who are considered to have indeed had sufficient physical contact with the infected person. The next step is to inform them that they are considered contacts, what this implies and the measures to be taken thereafter, such as isolation. It is of utmost importance that you receive immediate attention in case you have symptoms.
  3. Track contacts. The status of all contacts should be periodically monitored for infection symptoms. If they become cases, we proceed again with the three stages. Thus the transmission chains can be monitored.

How does the Go.Data platform work?

Go.Data is designed as a flexible tool for field data collection, focused on case and contact data. It allows monitoring through questionnaires that must be answered periodically.

Go.Data can be installed as a standalone that runs on a PC or can be used as a server installation. Multiple servers can be hierarchically connected so that information from a set of servers is synchronized to a root server, which has a view of an entire region or country. Each server supports multiple concurrent users who collaborate together, whose roles include data managers, field epidemiologists, and contact tracers.

In addition, Go.Data has an application for smartphones for Android or iOS, in a way that allows mobile fieldwork.

What data does it handle?

Go.Data focuses on outbreak investigation and field data collection and therefore handles sensitive data from people.

Users with appropriate permissions can configure the duration and frequency of follow-up, adjust reference data, and design questionnaires for case investigation, contact follow-up, and laboratory data. Users can also create case-case and case-contact relationships and build transmission chains.

Example 1 of transmission chains produced by the GOARN / WHO Go.Data Team for training purposes. The image shows fictitious data.
GOARN / WHO Go.Data Team, Author provided

Go.Data, the WHO tool to track infected people and their contacts 2

Example 2 of transmission chains produced by the GOARN / WHO Go.Data Team for training purposes. The image shows fictitious data. GOARN / WHO Go.Data Team, Author provided

Example 2 of transmission chains produced by the GOARN / WHO Go.Data Team for training purposes. The image shows fictitious data.
GOARN / WHO Go.Data Team, Author provided

One of the limitations of the tool is that the collection of monitoring data is manual, so it is especially useful at the beginning of the outbreak and once it is controlled. It is being evaluated to incorporate more automatic follow-up mechanisms so that its applicability continues even with a very high number of cases and contacts.

In which cases has it been used?

Go.Data was designed for outbreak environments where there is person-to-person transmission. It has been used primarily for the Ebola epidemic in African countries such as Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Also in the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh.

With the emergence of COVID-19, the use of Go.Data has spread globally, such as in Latin America or Europe. France, where it was first used in February, is the closest example.

In Spain there have been various initiatives to implement Go.Data by hospitals and health authorities. In Catalonia, the Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology Service of the Hospital Clínic Barcelona pioneered the implementation of Go.Data to follow up on cases and contacts of health personnel at the beginning of the outbreak.

Subsequently, its implementation has been extended to various centers, coordinated by the Service for the Prevention and Control of Emerging Diseases. Along with the ICT Area of ​​the Health Department of the Generalitat de Catalunya, a Go.Data node is being made available to Catalan health centers, which allows connecting and registering case and contact data.

The tool has proven to be an effective solution for outbreak investigation. He has come to help us in this public health emergency and other future ones that may affect us.The Conversation

Jesús Alcober, Full Professor of Telematic Engineering,

This article was originally published in The Conversation. Read the original.