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Australia’s disease forecasting system wins National Innovation Awards

Australia’s disease forecasting system wins National Innovation Awards

Australian Department of Defence recently
announced
that scientists from Defence
and the University of Melbourne have
won two innovation awards for disease forecasting at the CIVSEC 2018 Civil Security Congress and
Exposition
earlier this month.

Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP
congratulated the scientists and said the awards recognised a unique
capability.

“This is an exciting development, which aims to predict the
outbreak of disease so appropriate health management and prevention measures
can be put in place,” Minister Pyne said.

“If we can reliably predict the impact of a seasonal
epidemic, we can allocate medical support and resources more effectively to
minimise its impact,” he stated.

He added that for the past two flu seasons, the system has
been available to health authorities in Queensland, New South Wales and
Victoria to inform their weekly influenza forecasts. “If we can reliably
predict the impact of a seasonal epidemic, we can allocate medical support and
resources more effectively to minimise its impact,” he added.

The system comprises detection tool EpiDefend and
forecasting tool EpiFX that use health and environmental data to produce a near
real-time assessment of the likely presence of disease and how it might
continue to spread. Besides providing a forecasting capability for public
health authorities, the innovative system can be used by Defence to protect
troops against biological threats and pandemics.

EpiDefend is an algorithm that was first
developed
by Defence scientists to detect bioterrorism. It is now being
used by the Victorian Health Department as an influenza forecasting tool. The
algorithm is a combination of fusion of data from lab-confirmed influenza
cases, anonymised GP reports and other environmental data such as humidity were
tested. This strengthens the reliability, accuracy and timeliness of detecting
an outbreak from naturally occurring influenza-like
illness and maliciously released biological agents. The tool can accurately
predict flu outbreaks up to eight weeks in advance, giving the public health
system a better chance to minimise the impact of the outbreak.

EpiFX is a software developed
by the Universty of Melbourne to forecast influenza outbreak. It was developed based
on statistical probability principles is helping forecast our flu season, and
could also identify the level of threat of a bioterrorist attack. In Victoria,
EpiFX has accurately predicted flu outbreaks up to five weeks in advance.
Weekly forecasts of the incidence of flu are shared with the health sector to
gain further insight into the influenza season and continue its refinement.

The system was awarded both the CIVSEC 2018 National Innovation
Award and CIVSEC 2018 Award for Disaster Relief, Emergency Management and
Humanitarian Services.

The Defence scientists recognised were Dr Tony Lau, Dr Peter
Dawson, Dr Alex Skvortsov and Dr Ralph Gailis along with Melbourne University
co-researchers Professor James McCaw and Dr Rob Moss.

According to Minister Pyne, the revolutionary
system could soon be extended to other states, potentially providing
Australia’s first national disease surveillance and prediction system, not only
benefiting Defence but the wider Australian community.