Hello everyone and welcome to the Cognixia podcast! Thank you for tuning in today, we are glad to have you listening to us. We are super excited about today’s episode, and so, without further ado, we are going to begin.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you know that the days are getting colder and the mercury is dropping a bit every day. This makes for the perfect weather for that mug of hot chocolate and some warm ginger or cinnamon cookies, doesn’t it? But it is also a prime season for something else – flu. The cold, dry, winter air makes us susceptible to influenza. Not a lot of us take influenza very seriously, we call it just a viral fever and get on with life, but globally, it is a huge thing and there are response and surveillance systems that keep an eye on what’s happening with influenza everywhere. And this is not a new development, health authorities have been trying to combat and control the spread of influenza since the 40s. Just a friendly reminder, when we say influenza, we don’t just mean the usual viral flu that all of us end up with each time the season changes, the term also includes avian influenza or bird flu, swine flu, and so much more.
In 1947, the WHO Interim Committee of the United Nations agreed to begin a Global Influenza Program – the GIP, for the study and control of influenza. It was a time when a major outbreak of influenza in Europe was an immediate concern, so identifying the virus responsible for it, and developing vaccines that would help fight the virus was a top priority. Sounds like a familiar circumstance now, doesn’t it? Regional Influenza Centers were set up in response in 1948. Then, five years later, the Global Influenza Surveillance Network or GISN was established as there was a need for an influenza surveillance system to keep track of the methods and measures being deployed for disease prevention and control. This GISN then got renamed to what we today know as the Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System or GISRS. The GISRS is evolving as an integrated scientific and technical global collaboration to fulfill the objectives and activities of GIP. The GISRS is taken to be an effective early warning system for changes in influenza viruses circulating across the globe, which would help the member countries, and the world at large prevent the occurrence of an influenza pandemic while putting the efforts in the right direction to maintain the efficacy of the seasonal influenza vaccines.
To understand the scale at which GISRS operates, listen to this:
Every year, sentinel physicians and hospital networks contribute about 3-4 million clinical specimens with related information to the National Influenza Centers for virus detection and preliminary analysis, reports WHO. From these, about 40,000 are sent to the WHO Collaborating Centers, where 10,00 of these 40,000 are characterized for their antigenic and genetic properties. All this data that gets produced is reviewed twice every year to figure out if the virus strains used to make the influenza vaccines need to be updated. This thorough surveillance is critical for early detection and routine monitoring of emerging pandemic threats. The GISRS played a critical response in the global response to the SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS-CoV in 2012. It also played a very important role in the response to Covid-19.
Now, sometime in November 2007, an inter-governmental meeting on pandemic influenza preparedness took place and the countries agreed to share all available information they had on influenza viruses as well as share access to the influenza vaccines, among other benefits. At that time, the countries also agreed to work with the WHO to develop an Influenza Virus Traceability Mechanism (IVTM) which would help track all influenza viruses that existed across the globe and had pandemic potential. The IVTM, it was agreed, would let the users trace the geographic transfer of influenza viruses sing Geotrace and also be able to view the derivation tree for these. Based on these, IVTM 1.0 was launched in December 2010. In 2017, the need to upgrade was felt, so a feasibility study was conducted to learn more about the IVTM platform, its functionality, benefits, and challenges. Based on the findings of this feasibility study, IVTM 2.0 was launched in June 2020. The IVTM 2.0 was built on the latest Microsoft .Net and it was powered by Microsoft Power BI as well as Microsoft Azure. Microsoft .Net, for the uninitiated, is a free, cross-platform, open-source developer platform for building many different types of applications. .Net lets you use a wide range of languages, editors, and libraries for creating web, mobile, desktop, games, IoT, and more. It also lets you consume your existing cloud computing services or create & deploy your services as well. The platform and systems are powered by Microsoft. Microsoft Power BI is one of the most powerful tools that help create a data-driven culture with business intelligence, enabling access to useful insights and making confident, informed decisions. Power BI enables GISRS to leverage the art of data storytelling in this digital age, by analyzing, uncovering, and sharing insights.
Now, this is what has happened in the past. Let us tell you what is happening as we speak and what will happen in the future with this amazing surveillance and response network we have. Technical teams are working to further the integration of laboratory and epidemiological surveillance, sentinel and non-sentinel surveillance, routine, and outbreak surveillance, improve the utilization of the data generated from point-of-care tests, as well as participatory surveillance using digital tools. A cutting-edge system is also being developed to rapidly assess the severity of the disease severity which would be immensely helpful for public health decision-making. There is an expanding genomics capacity and new lab technologies also being developed all around the world which would also help further the cause of the global influenza surveillance and response.
The data that is being generated for influenza surveillance is being stored on the cloud computing, making it accessible to multiple countries around the world. Cloud Computing services are a critical resource to ensure data accessibility and availability to professionals in the various teams managing the operations as well as for decision-makers. Why this blows our minds, even more, is the fact that specializing in cloud technologies or being a qualified, skilled cloud professional doesn’t always mean you have to be working for a big tech company or a multinational corporation. You can also be working for such world-changing efforts and mapping out a whole new course for the global future. Something as simple but revolutionary as cloud computing is playing such an important role in storing and making data accessible to everyone involved around the globe! Just imagine the huge role the cloud plays here. Just imagine, you could be say a Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator, who is working as part of a team working on one such epic project, your work is shaping the global response to something as deadly as say swine flu or avian influenza, or you are on a team mapping a new virus strain, preventing another pandemic from happening, saving lives in your unique way! Not all heroes wear capes or lab coats, do they?
Well, we are going to give you some time to let that sink in, we are sure it is a lot to process for now. So, with that, we will call it an end to this week’s podcast episode. We hope you found it as mind-blowing as we did while recording it. We would also recommend that if you are considering building a career in cloud computing then do consider obtaining an official Microsoft certification to validate your skills and knowledge. Goes without saying, the best place to begin would be the AZ-104: Microsoft Azure Administrator training, the official Microsoft certification examination, clearing which you earn the credentials of a Microsoft Certified Azure Administrator. To know more about this certification, check out our website or reach out to us on any of our social media handles.
Until next week then, happy learning, folks!