As the COVID-19 disease continues to ravage the globe, an accurate prediction of the evolution of the pandemic, generation of pandemic-related data and the optimal dissemination of information, partly holds the key to the successful management of the pandemic.
A team of researchers at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has developed a utilitarian web-based digital platform that provides diverse data that is key in predicting the Coronavirus (Covid-19) disease infection trends in Kenya.
The innovation is a significant contribution by JKUAT aimed at supporting government’s strategies in combating Covid-19 through prediction of coronavirus disease infection trends at national and county levels and dissemination of vital information about the disease.
The Dean, School of Public Health, Prof. Simon Karanja and Dean, School of Medicine, Dr. Reuben Thuo, while acknowledging the pandemic poses a major health threat, they appreciate the interventions introduced by the government since the confirmation of the first case on March 13, 2020.
However, as researchers, they strongly felt they could leverage on the synergy of health science experts resident in the College of Health Sciences (COHES) as well as a multi-disciplinary team of experts in other disciplines at JKUAT such as Mathematics/Statistics, Information Technology, Geospatial and Geomatics Information Systems and Remote Sensing, to come up with practical and innovative interventions that seek to address specific gaps in the management of the pandemic thus boosting government initiatives to tame the spread of the pandemic.
The research team that includes – Prof. Haroun Mengech, Dr. Jane Aduda, Dr. Joseph Mungátu, Dr. Henry Kissinger Athiany, Dr. John Gachohi, Dr. Joseph Machua, Dr. Thomas Ngigi, Prof. Fred Wamunyokoli, Ms. Carol Otiwa, Ms. Esther Gichaiya, Mr. Jonathan Mwai, Mr. Charles Muriuki, Ms. May Kitiyo, the Palladium Group and officers of the Ministry of Health – is driven by three major concerns that are predicated mainly on government actions in response to the pandemic:
One, what is the impact of the various interventions instituted by government? Two, what are the predicted outcomes of these interventions? Three, what measures could government adopt/enhance to mitigate the impact of Covid-19?
In an interview conducted in strict observance of social distancing rule, Prof. Karanja and Dr. Thuo who spoke on behalf of the research group, revealed the team has successfully developed three innovative products:
“The JKUAT Covid-19 Dashboard that maps the hot spots, health resources and risk maps in Kenya up to the ward administrative level across all counties; the Spatial Real-Time Presumptive Covid-19 Tracker application (a self-test check that designates low, moderate to high risk in regard to suspected cases) as well as the Predictive Disease Models.”
The Dashboard provides a one-stop shop for various data analytics products critical for making informed-policy decisions. One can access statistics on the total number of confirmed cases, active, recovered or dead cases, gender, local or foreign, daily confirmed cases dating back to when the first Covid-19 case in the country, the evolution of coronavirus cases in Kenya overtime and their distribution by counties.
The Spatial Real-Time Presumptive Covid-19 Tracker application is a self-administered health test that picks a person’s location and map it on to the dashboard. The ministry of health can then use this information relayed to the national map to make decisions such as undertake targeted mass testing in an area flagged by the map.
The team has managed to generate a number of predictive disease models, making it possible to forecast the number of confirmed cases (active and dead) over time against the actual numbers.
These models take into consideration the Composite Risk Indices –sensitivity analysis using varying levels of interventions the ministry of health has introduced such as – hygiene measures, social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPEs), testing, contact tracing, mobility, social gatherings, frontline staff, population structure and household characteristics among others.
Interestingly, one of the models, consistent with observations made by the researchers, validates the outcome of initial government interventions such as quarantine, contact tracing and county containment. In addition, the model underscores the paramount importance of social distancing and hygiene.
Commenting on the risk map (premised on the number of confirmed cases), the researchers say, it provides valuable information that informs Covid-19 national and county preparedness strategies.
To avert a scenario where the country’s healthcare system might be overwhelmed, the model sheds light on intervention measures the government needs to implement; tailored to minimize contact between persons to less than 20, especially in high risk areas as indicated by the risk map.
What recommendations does the team offer? Observation of more stringent hygiene measures, adherence to effective social distancing, protection of front-line staff (PPEs), increased testing capacity and de-stigmatization of the disease.
The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Victoria Wambui Ngumi lauded the researchers for their contribution towards addressing coronavirus pandemic in the country by working collaboratively as a team.
Prof. Ngumi stated that as a university, the main preoccupation of experts is to ask themselves what can be done to address a problem affecting the society.
“We are happy to participate as a university and come up with these innovative solutions that will support the government to tackle the pandemic,” she stated.
The researchers had an opportunity to engage health ministry officials on the university’s current research intervention which demonstrate JKUAT’s capacity to offer innovative solutions to the country.
Currently, JKUAT hosts the Digital Health Applied Research Centre (DHARC) that aims to create an environment for sharing knowledge and experiences around innovative digital health tools, and the Universal Health Care (UHC) dashboard of the Ministry of Health.