IBM Helps Taiwan CDC Create Predictive Model to Simulate Effects of Using Wolbachia-infected Mosquitoes for Dengue Prevention

16 Nov

Data-driven decision making has become a trend for enterprises today, and there is no exception for government agencies. On November 11, Taiwan CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and IBM Health Corps unveiled the result of a collaborative pro bono program which focused on the research of dengue fever, a critical problem in southern Taiwan every summer. By applying design thinking principles, Taiwan CDC simulated the result of releasing male mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria into the environment to reduce the number of mosquito vectors and dengue fever cases since mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia are unable to produce offspring.

Selected by IBM Health Corps as one of the grants of the pro bono program, Taiwan CDC worked with six IBM experts for three weeks to establish a dengue fever prevention decision-making model. The collaboration was like a training session. Given the short period of time which elapsed from October 24 to November 11, Taiwan CDE decided to focus on dengue fever, the most horrifying epidemic in Taiwan, because the predicative model can be created in a short time despite of the complexity of its transmission and prevention.

During the three weeks, the IBM team and Taiwan CDC’s public health experts conducted brainstorming and applied design thinking to their discussions, while investigating dengue cases in southern Taiwan. The model built by Taiwan CDC and the IBM team suggested that, by releasing different numbers of Wolbachia-infected male mosquitoes into the environment at different time intervals, the numbers of mosquito vectors and dengue cases can be significantly reduced in eight weeks.

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▲Taiwan CDC Examines Prevention Strategies Using Design Thinking Approach (Source: IBM Taiwan)

In March, WHO suggested that every country assess the feasibility of using Wolbachia, a natural bacterium present in insects, to control mosquito vectors. Field experiments were carried out in seven countries including Singapore, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Columbia, and China. The partnership program between Taiwan CDC and the IBM team has based on WHO’s suggestion to simulate the outcome of this method in Taiwan.

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▲The IBM Team’s Brainstorming Meeting (Source: IBM Taiwan)

CDC Director-General Chou Jih-haw said a tenable model must be built on realistic data. Such a model can prevent Taiwan CDC from the criticism of making big talks when implementing the preventive measures while helping them evaluate necessary costs for each measure, thereby facilitating decision-making. During the creating of the model, Taiwan CDC also trained the staff’s abilities to create the decision-making model and utilize big data in order to continuously optimize the model and apply it to the prevention of other mosquito-borne diseases. Through the cooperation, Taiwan CDC and IBM hope to encourage IT companies and organizations to join prevention programs and fight against dengue in Taiwan together.

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▲The IBM Team Investigated Mosquito Breeding Places for Dengue in Kaohsiung and Pingtung (Source: Taiwan IBM)

Jennifer Hwang, General Manager of IBM Taiwan, said it was great to see a Taiwanese organization selected as one of the IBM Health Corps grant recipients. This is IBM Health Corps’ first collaborative project in Asia. IBM Health Corps is a pro bono program that is completely free from product marketing. Dengue fever is a major public health issue in Taiwan. With advanced data analysis and cognitive technologies, Taiwan CDC will be able to use data to make informed decisions and promote the health and wellbeing of all citizens.