Data Against Covid-19: Bridging Access to Critical Information

Public health and government leaders are pressed  to make unprecedented decisions at every turn in the fight against Covid-19. Yet informed decisions require access to the right data—which is often not available. A new toolkit from Dalberg Data Insights helps optimize existing data to aid leaders in making truly informed decisions.

As Covid-19 swept across the world, public health and government officials in every corner of the globe found themselves grappling with a similar challenge: lacking the data that would help them make truly informed decisions related to public health and socioeconomic well-being. 

What leaders were asking for, but couldn’t find, was  high-quality, high-resolution data that could be applied to key questions, such as:

Where is the disease likely to spread?
Can propagation be limited by focusing on priority areas?
Which communities are most vulnerable?
When might we be able to lift shelter-in-place restrictions?

Looking to data to understand mobility trends

The key drivers of viral transmission—interpersonal proximity and human mobility—are well-established. Both variables are responsible for the virus’ spread and the introduction of the disease into new locations. 

However, the mobility patterns of people are not tracked in most places and not over time. Reliable, systematic, granular, and dynamic insights regarding travel and movement are often not available for health surveillance and intervention planning.

Yet this is exactly the type of information that could be most useful to Ministries of Health and City Authorities, especially if it contains updated information with high geographic resolution on the spread of the virus. 

Mobile technologies are primed to fulfill this need. As use of devices grows exponentially, telecom operators can passively collect broad sets of anonymized information about mobile phone users. When aggregated, this data can yield almost real-time insights on population movements with high geographic granularity. 

A Public-Private Partnership

The Belgian government sought to integrate data more deeply into their Covid-related decision making, and they mandated Dalberg Data Insights (DDI) to lead the data task force and focus on three key areas of concern related to the pandemic:

  • Monitoring the impact from mobility restrictions and lockdown
  • Identifying risky geographies and informing targeted actions (e.g. confinement of specific municipalities or segments of populations)
  • Uncovering anomalies amid concentration of populations in the fight against Covid-19

Together with the Belgian government and the country’s three licensed telecommunication operators, Dalberg Data Insights developed the Data-Against-Covid19 Toolkit. The toolkit uses anonymised telecom data and localized incidence data—complemented with key modules such as governance and other regulatory elements—to monitor the impact of lockdown measures on population movements and assess health risk levels. 

What makes this work unique is its use of non-traditional data sources (e.g. aggregated and anonymised telecom data) to provide otherwise unavailable data insights. The toolkit also covers the regulatory approach and governance needed to ensure GDPR compliance and operational efficiency and, ultimately, measurable impact. DDI set up an Ethic Committee and a series of steering committees to support the Prime Minister and the National Security Council.

Through their research, the Dalberg Data Insights team recognized that insights specifically into preventive actions, population mobility, the spread of the disease, and the resilience of people and systems to cope with the virus, can drive micro- and macro-level decision making by helping leaders respond more effectively to the global pandemic and limit its spread—and consequently, the number of deaths across the country.

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