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UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Archive for February, 2020

9th International Conference on Digital Public Health

By Saqar ' M Al Zaabi, on 27 February 2020

The team from UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) attended the 9th International Conference on Digital Public Health (www.acm-digitalhealth.org) chaired again by the dPHE Centre Director, Prof Patty Kostkova.

Held on 20th – 23rd November 2019 in Marseille, France, the DPH 2019 was supported by the newly established UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) and for the first time held in conjunction with a public health event – 12th European Public Health Conference 2019 and continue our cooperation with ACM Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (SIGKDD). There were two parallel tracks on digital health: 9th DPH 2019 conference with technical focus, and a joint track with EPH ‘Digital Applications in Health’ bringing public health applications of digital health. Young researchers, MSc and PhD students enjoyed a truly interdisciplinary ‘Young Researches Forum’ day organised in collaboration with ASPHER, the Association of Public Health Schools in the European Region.

Building on the growing success of previous editions (2008 London, 2009 Istanbul, 2010 Casablanca, 2011 Malaga, 2013 Rio de Janeiro, 2014 Soul, 2015 Florence, 2016 in Montreal, 2017 London, 2018 Lyon), the 9th International Digital Public Health conference mission has ideally met the EPH 2019 vision: ‘Building Bridges for Solidarity and Public Health’.

This year, we enjoyed exciting plenary session bringing the highest calibre of international speakers for topical panel debates: ‘AI and Big Data: Ethical challenges and health opportunities’ (chaired by Patty, organised jointly with EPH), international perspective was discussed at a DPH plenary on ‘Challenges of Implementing Healthcare Technology and Innovation across Europe and Beyond’ (chaired by Dr Arnold Bosman) and lessons learned from successful DH innovation projects will be highlighted at plenary on ‘Digital Health Innovation: From Proof of Concept to Public Value’ (chaired by Dr Michael Edelstein). The role of fake news in social media for public health is addressed at the joint session: ‘Online anti-vaccination movements: The role of social media in public health communications’ was chaired by Patty and organised jointly by DPH, EUPHA Health promotion section & EUPHA Infection Diseases Control section. Another highlight featured the launch of the European mHealth Knowledge and Innovations Hub – a bold new partnership for the future of mHealth in WHO European Region. DPH 2019 offered even more: a joint EPH and RECON workshop offering a session on programming in R for epidemiologists.

In addition to being busy chairing with the event, Prof Patty Kostkova, Dr. Caroline Wood, Dr. Anwar Musah, Dr Adrian Rubio Solis and Georgiana Birjovanu had the opportunity to present their recent digital solutions to combat antibiotic overuse or to create an early-warning tool for the ZIKA virus and the gamified intervention improving resilience of women in Nepal, MANTRA. Several dPHE papers were published by ACM Digital Library and European Journal on Public Health.

The conference started with the Young Researchers Forum, where postgraduate students were able to present their recent work, followed by an exciting session on Missing Maps. This session, led by Katherine Roberts-Hill from the British Red Cross and Dr. Anwar Musah, and supported by Medicines Sans Frontiers, offered participants the opportunity to contribute to open-source maps that help geolocate women at risk of Female Genital Mutilation in Tanzania. A concurrent Missing Maps session was run at UCL for IRDR students by a guest lecturer at the Digital Heath module – real-time concurrent mapping in two countries – how more digital one can get? 😉

The conference also comprised of many exciting sessions, from talks on how technology can help achieve a healthy lifestyle, assessing food consumption behaviour using machine learning in order to advise patients with diabetes to the potential of AI and Big data in the health domain.

One of the peak moments of this event was represented by the 2019 Innovation Prize Pitches, where the teams pitched for the Best Data-Driven Innovation and the Best Partnership awards. On behalf of UCL, Dr. Caroline Wood presented as the Best Partnership program the GADSA project, a Gamified Antimicrobial Decision Support App that provides feedback to surgeons when prescribing surgical antibiotic prophylaxis. Georgiana Birjovanu pitched for the Best Data-Driven Innovation, presenting the ZIKA platform and mobile app, designed to help health agents in Brazil to gather environmental data and to predict the mosquito populations based on the data collected. Both presentations were awarded the Best Runner Up awards by the international jury.

The Digital Public Health Conference represented a great opportunity to meet experts from different areas within the public health domain – world-class researchers, World Health Organization representatives and small to medium-sized enterprises – it’s where the digital health minds meet. No wonder  #DPH2019 hashtag was trending on Twitter all week.

Please click the link below to watch a video of photos showing the different conference events.


We look forward to DPH 2020 and hope to tempt more IRDR colleagues to attend this exciting event with us 🙂

UCL-ZIKA Mapathon: Mapping of Residential Areas for Mosquito Surveillance in Campina Grande, Northeast Brazil

By ucfausa, on 25 February 2020

On Tuesday, 28th of January, researchers from UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies (dPHE) (Professor Patty Kostkova and Dr Anwar Musah), UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) (Dr Sarah Wise) and expert mappers from the British Red Cross (Katherine Roberts-Hill and Jiumei Gao) organised an interesting Mapathon session. Through crowd participation, the goal was to map out the entire residential areas of Campina Grande, Brazil.

Campina Grande is an interesting city with varied land-uses in the State of Paraiba. Unfortunately, it is one of many areas in the North Eastern region of Brazil that was hit by the Zika epidemic in 2014/15. UCL IRDR-dPHE alongside researchers from Federal University of Campina Grande and Environmental Health Surveillance agency are working closely to monitor potential mosquito population outbreaks through the development of mobile technologies and GIS. Unfortunately, this area remains unmapped and off-grid. Only scanned paper maps exist for the authorities at Campina Grande, there is presently no spatial data that can be used in a form of early warning detection for potential mosquito outbreaks nor observing the distribution of residential areas inhabited by mosquito breeding. This is where our collaborative research and mapathon comes into play to address such paucity of data.

Students from UCL (IRDR, CASA and Geography), LSHTM as well as external volunteers (GIS experts from London Borough offices, businesses and hikers) and The Red Cross came to this session to learn valuable cartographic skills for digitising scanned paper maps in QGIS. In return, they help us to digitise 47 scanned maps representing the residential areas for neighbourhoods in Campina Grande.

Figure 1: Overall mapathon progress – grey section represents what was mapped by the volunteers.

The result – we were able to complete 38 (out 47 neighbourhoods). This corresponds to a completion rate of 79.0% (3,781 out of 4,787) which represent the number of residential block areas that were digitised during the mapathon (see Figure 1). This is effort is extremely impressive! The event received many positive feedbacks from the participants, as well as the evening atmosphere was great and friendly – we all enjoyed drinks and munched on a tonne of delicious pizzas from Icco’s Pizza while mapping!

If you’re interested in attending a similar Mapathon event, follow @TheMissingMaps on Twitter.

To stay up to date with all UCL IRDR dPHE news and events, follow @UCL_dPHE & @UCLIRDR

Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak

By xiao.han.17, on 13 February 2020

‘The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the only right and proper end of government’

Thursday, February 6, 2020, was another ordinary day in London. It was full of sunshine, comfortable and more humidity would be better. In China, however, it was another difficult day, not only in the Province of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic but in every household in the homeland. The coronavirus has been spreading for more than 40 days. The situation, unfortunately, does not seem to get better as experts are still warning of further risk of pandemic expansion. The news on the lack and shortages of medical and personal protective equipment are adding more worries and fears among people, especially when their mobile devices are bombarded with such news in every single second.

Source: Chinanews.com

Yes, technologies could have unintended consequences, but they have made it possible to communicate with the people who are stuck in their homes at the affected areas despite following a strict ‘self-isolation strategy’. For now, there is not another effective method to reduce the expansion of the pandemic better than ‘self-isolation’. We are glad that people’s livelihood is not fully interrupted by this pandemic, thanks to the modernised technologies and society. We, as students who have interests in disasters, find this pandemic a great opportunity to discuss and study. Our discussion here might be dogmatic and theoretical but at least we try to contribute to this issue based on our humble knowledge, background, and cognitive scope.

During these tough days, I invited current master students and alumni of IRDR who have interests in discussing this pandemic. Further, I have invited some scholars from other institutes and universities who work in DRR and emergency planning field. We discussed a number of ideas. They were all important, but I chose three aspects to illustrate in this blog.

The current situation in some cities

There are two scholars join this forum in distance via Skype. Dr. Barbara, who recently graduated from Coventry University and currently lived in Sichuan, and Miss Huiyan Kang, who possibility would join IRDR in this September as a Ph.D. student and currently located in Peking. There is not so much difference when local authorities propose to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to their report from their place. All of the local authorities are following the strictest measures, which is the ‘isolation policy’.  In fact, residents’ committees across the whole country are following this policy to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Accordingly, community securities and guards must close the gate of the community and strictly check every person entering the community. At the same time, people have been strongly advised to stay home and limit contact as much as possible, eliminating or reducing the pathway of the coronavirus infection.

Source: www.news.cn

From the report in Hankou, part of Wuhan, the environment is more horrific as the pandemic has covered people living in that city as a gigantic cloud. The alarm of the ambulance has become the symbol of fear, heard continuously from the streets. The hospital in Hankou is fully busy as people face death every single day. In addition, sunlight could not break through the cloud in the sky and a sunny day has become a luxury for the people in the Hankou.

People still believe the situation will be under control and that they will overcome the difficulties like they had already done for SARS. Most people had volunteered to stay home and report any suspicious symptoms of being infected. Although we have heard a lot of news about people being irresponsible and hiding the travel and contact history, the social responsibility and cooperation of the public emerged through this pandemic is fundamentally the larger norm. Every single event happening in our society is reminding us of the SARS nightmare, 17 years back, when people learned that good hygiene habits, isolation, social responsibility, and social solidarity are important factors to overcome this disaster too.

The argument of humanitarian aid

The second important aspect we discussed was the humanitarian logistics and aid. The humanitarian supply chain is challenged in this pandemic. The event is letting the public see how the charity organisations work in reality, rather than observing the armchair strategist and empty talk. Similar to bureaucratic systems, emergency response capacities in the provincial level are also being tested by this pandemic and the result is perceived barely satisfactory. The intervention from the central government was seen as necessary as poor planning and response strategies were found in provincial authorities in the early stage of the pandemic.

It is known that lack of adequate medical equipment has caused suffering among the nurses and doctors who are fighting the virus in the front line. The sudden increased demand for masks has caused a temporary shortage in the market and spiked prices. This has become a perfect time for speculators participating in the market and getting their ‘first bucket of gold’. Masks used to be medical protective equipment and now have become an absolute necessity. Fundraising for medical support has been initiated, the usual case when China and Chinese people are faced with a disaster. Chinese people from overseas give as much as they can to support.

Source: UCL Chinese Students and Scholars Association (UCL CSSA)


But how this kind of generosity has been used in the epidemic area? Do the doctors, nurses and the public really and finally enjoy the contribution from their compatriots? It seems that more transparency is needed for some specific humanitarian and charity agencies in China. Such rumours about the lack of efficiency, transparency, and supervision are more dreadful than the pandemic itself. Coronavirus breaks the organ of the human body, but rumours kill humanity and kindness in human nature.

Ethic of the donation, brief thinking at the end

At the end of our discussion, there was a brief philosophy thought. The slogan that UCL Chinese Society used for fundraising: ‘20 pounds might be one meal for your daily life, nevertheless, it could protect 4-5 medical workers away from virus infection’. This slogan reminds me of the argument of the drowning child in the pond from Peter Singer. The only cost of saving the drowning child is staining your trousers by dirt, which is morally insignificant compared to saving a life. Similarly, the only cost of saving the medical staff from the risk is only the cost of a daily meal of an overseas student. With the support of modern technology and online banking systems, distance is no longer an obstacle for the realisation of maximum human utility and happiness. Moreover, recipients are psychologically more closed to donors. We do not know how much UCL Chinese Society received yet, how much lives will these funds save and how many will the kids of wealthy people donate instead of spending money on buying luxurious properties or clothing. Perhaps, they are not utilitarian and altruistic, or they have no idea about these ethical ideas. Such donation is volunteered, real saint and charity, but not an obligation or duty.

If it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it. The argument from Peter Singer about famine relief for the Bangel tragedy in the 1970s is renewing now. London is far from Wuhan, but we cannot deny the tragedy because we are far from the tragedy. This is a controversial debate, and sometimes it links to the topic of how to distinguish the duty and charity. In the daily life of human beings, the donation is supererogatory, but it is no wrong to do so. In the end, if I could refer a statement from the Decretum Gratiani:

‘The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless.’

Jeremy Bentham would be happy to see those words that have been written in the University College London.



Dr. Barbara (Coventry University)

Guangzhao LYU (Ph.D. candidate in CMII)

Huiyan KANG (IRDR alumna)

Lan LI (IRDR Master Student)

Xuanrong WANG (Ph.D. candidate in IRDR)

Xiao HAN (Ph.D. candidate in IRDR)

8/Feb/2019. UCL IRDR