Changing the Global Fight Against COVID-19 with Big Data


The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a lot of opinions and data. The question is, how can governments cut through the noise to make informed decisions to curb the spread of infections. The Global COVID-19 Index was developed to answer just that, by taking a more holistic approach — anchoring on a recovery and severity index to assess 184 countries’ progress in managing the spread of the virus and deciding on the necessary measures to implement. In this article, we break down the plethora of features and metrics that make this a truly comprehensive index on the pandemic.

Do we need another index on COVID-19?

Over the course of the last 8 weeks during the heady heights of our Movement Control Order (MCO), PEMANDU Associates and COMMUNICATE collaborated to develop and promote the Global COVID-19 Index (GCI) as an open science resource for the world on how technology and big data can innovate a global approach towards combatting the pandemic.

Facts vs Perception = Uncertainty

The idea of the GCI is intended to dispel uncertainty and to ground what should be reported by the media globally on the pandemic from a single compilation of datasets.

At the moment, no single dataset is able to represent the reality of the COVID-19 situation on the ground. Every day, thousands of healthcare workers, government agencies and researchers are each collecting, processing and sharing what they know about the virus. The more countries collect and share their experiences, the closer to reality we should get. The goal is to collate the most reliable data that can help people understand the outbreak as it evolves.

What is the GCI?

In a nutshell, the GCI measures and illustrates both the severity and recovery index for 184 countries. The GCI also publishes analytics based on a comprehensive set of data on public health, socio-economic, demographic and climate indicators. Some would say, there are many such sites out there from established institutions displaying similar data. What makes the GCI any different?

How are the analytics being constructed in the GCI?

Our focus is to ensure governments can ultimately determine which countries have the right best practices that are most applicable to them, and what could work best given their current circumstances. For that purpose, the GCI data enables analysis on correlations, trends and comparisons to identify significant parameters and assess the effectiveness of various strategies adopted by countries around the world. At present, the GCI displays infection trends, country comparisons across the severity and recovery matrix, as well as comparisons according to demographic, socioeconomic, geographical and climate factors. 

Within a country, the GCI analytics can be further conducted to examine the impact of COVID-19 by locality, gender, and measures undertaken by the country to arrest the infection rate, provided the availability of required data.

What are the numbers we should all be concerned about?

At the start of the outbreak, a lot of attention was focused on comparing the death rate from COVID-19 to the death rate for other known diseases. While the need was simply for everyone to grasp how severe the COVID-19 pandemic could be, this comparison can be easily misconstrued. Many made anecdotal comparisons to SARS, Ebola and even the common influenza. Due to this approach, some made light of the infection rate and severity of COVID-19, and advocated for herd immunity instead of more stringent measures to control the disease. 

Epidemiologists, who study the spread and control of diseases, have two measurements to calculate the risk of death, which are the case-fatality-rate (CFR) and the infection-fatality-rate (IFR). However, fatality rates are not an adequate indication of how severe the situation is in a country. The GCI severity index measures a country’s infection and fatality rates against the strength of its public health system to prevent and cope with diseases in order to fully assess how well the country can handle its present COVID-19 situation. Thus, a country with fewer cases and fatalities may actually be worse off compared to a country with higher cases and fatalities, due to poor public health capacity. This gives a more accurate depiction of the country’s overall COVID-19 risk.

We must also understand that the overwhelming majority of people who contract COVID-19 do get better. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the virus typically lasts about two weeks for mild cases and three to six weeks for serious cases. Keeping an eye on the recovery trend against new cases would help us assess whether a country is on the right track. But how can we truly measure a country’s recovery progress to know when it is ready to ease its restrictions? A misestimation could be a costly fatal error for the country. The GCI recovery index adopts a prudent approach by normalising a country’s recovery rate against its testing rates and public health ability to detect, respond and treat the ill. Thus, the index accounts for the possibility of undetected cases and the strength of a country’s healthcare system in assessing how well it is handling the pandemic.

Today, as governments across the world are seeking the best methods to contain the pandemic, we must not only look into these measures locally but also monitor the development of other countries around the world. 

What do all the COVID-19 graphs and charts mean?

The purpose of a map or chart is to visualise various information and make it easily digestible. Maps illustrate what is happening around the world right now, while charts offer insights on trends that have emerged over time. Different charts will have a different combination of data and visualisation that would give us a different understanding of COVID-19. No single chart can communicate all there is to know about the virus. Hence, the GCI analyses various parameters in order to gauge their significance on how COVID-19 has behaved thus far.

And so, the GCI has the following maps and graphs:

How do I know if the world is getting better or worse?

The GCI aggregates the total number of cases, recoveries and deaths from 184 countries daily to determine if global active cases have flattened and are in decline. 

These are visualised through the Global Infection Trend graph, which quickly shows us whether the world in its entirety is recovering or worsening from COVID-19. 

The continuing upward trend of the daily global active cases and new cases clearly indicate that global infection rates are still growing, with no signs of sustained gains in overall recovery so far.

The world will truly begin to recover when the growth in active cases slows down, as indicated by a flattening of the active case line and its eventual decline. 

How can we strategically move forward in combatting COVID-19?

After being a permanent fixture in the Malaysian landscape on providing daily updates and local statistics on the COVID-19 pandemic for over 3 months, the Director-General of the Malaysian Ministry of Health, Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah announced on 13th June that the Health Ministry’s press conference will cease to be a daily affair from 20th June. Thus, this makes the GCI a timely resource.

No country is spared from the devastating effects of this global pandemic. At the time of writing, the United Kingdom has become the 3rd highest in COVID-19 fatality. The world must now band together to survive this pandemic and its socioeconomic consequences. 

The GCI offers a platform that enables countries to share their knowledge and resources to quickly learn from one another, in order to strategically and effectively suppress this virus until a viable vaccine is found. In the face of this great challenge in modern history, our humanity and ingenuity must prevail.

To some, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning aren’t much more than tech buzzwords. It’s understandable if you are sceptical of its potential— after all, plenty of tech fads have come and gone over the years, and these could have been just another flash in the pan. Being a hybrid data consulting-creative agency, COMMUNICATE values Big Data and sees technology as an integral part of how we develop outreach and communication strategies. These technologies are evident in every industry and marketplace, and brand marketing is one area where it can’t be ignored. Big data has absolutely changed the game by ushering in a new era of targeted customer engagement strategies. If you’d like to grab coffee to chat on how technology can play a role in your communication and business recovery strategies, drop us a line.