African Physics Newsletter

COVID-19 Dashboard: The Facts at Your Fingertips in Africa

A multidisciplinary initative enable South Africans to follow the evolution of the pandemic in their country. It is now extended in other countries on the continent.

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) and the South African National Research Foundation's iThemba Laboratory for Accelerator-Based Sciences (NRF/iThemba LABS) have created a comprehensive COVID-19 dashboard  (see also). The dashboard was initially focused on South African cases, providing historical data of relevant parameters, provincial and other breakdowns, and has undergone a number of upgrades since its release.

The dashboard goes beyond visualisation by providing predictions for the spread. One of the most recent upgrades is the addition of a dashboard for the African continent that includes a detailed account of total cases, mortalities and recoveries for African countries.

Panafrican collaborations

This addition has triggered a collaboration with the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST) to develop the first COVID-19 dashboard for Botswana, which can be seen on the front page of their official website.

Collaborations have also been established in Nigeria, Eswatini, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Morocco and Senegal.

Impact of lockdown

Another exciting upgrade pertains to the global analysis of the spread in the conditions of containment (or "lockdown") using epidemiological models. Several countries have been selected for which containment measures have led to a significant reduction in the rate of spread.

Data analysis and statistical treatment are performed using a frequentist framework. For this purpose, the data processing framework ROOT, developed by the European Laboratory CERN, is used.

Lower and upper curves

Results are presented in terms of lower and upper curves for the cumulative number of positive cases as a function of time. These are estimated on the basis of a 68% confidence level.

Predictions are updated on a daily basis. These are essential to generate models that can be applied to different African countries after taking into account local specifics.

An award from IEEE

Recently, the project has received a supporting grant from IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. The award supports COVID-19-related visualisation and analytics for Southern Africa.

The nature of the project is interdisciplinary, where medical data and expertise need to be combined with the wealth of methodologies and algorithms used in advanced analytics --Big Data and Data Science. Assumptions used in the project revolve around our current level of understanding of advanced analytics driven by Data Science and other disciplines.

Frequentist and Bayesian reasoning

Main-stream statistical frameworks, frequentist and Bayesian reasoning, are built into the model. Input is gathered from the different medical, virology and custodians of data for populations, social and medical vulnerabilities, access to medical infrastructure, and the prevalence of relevant pre-existing conditions.

The project uses predictive methodologies from Data Science and Artificial Intelligence that effectively combine medical and other data to provide the most comprehensive synthetic view of the landscape. The chief goal of the project supported by the IEEE grant is to assist in the control of the number of people infected, hospitalisations, Intensive Care Unit admissions and mortality in South Africa and other African countries.

Assist policy makers

These outcomes will be forecasted as a function of non-pharmaceutical interventions in the post-lockdown period to allow the economy to reactivate. Analytical and predictive tools developed with these projections will assist policy makers to test rules and regulations with which to revive economic activity, while preventing a massive outbreak of the virus. This capability is essential to alleviate the economic impact of the virus in African countries, in particular to slow down the rate of job losses.

Webinars are also supported. "These webinars will be hosted by Wits University's Joburg Centre for Software Engineering and will bring together panels of experts who are actively collaborating and working on the Wits COVID-19 dashboard project, including data scientists, modellers, medical experts and software engineers. The webinars will be open to all and will be advertised shortly," says Professor Bruce Mellado, from the School of Physics, University of the Witwatersrand.

Volunteers needed

The collaboration consists of a team of highly dedicated and motivated student volunteers, drawn from a variety of disciplines, who are working 24/7 to develop and maintain the dashboard under the leadership of senior staff members from Wits University and iThemba LABS. If you wish to support the initiative, please share the URLs with your respective networks.

Student volunteers from African countries are invited to join and collaborate with their Southern African peers in an effort to make this the most comprehensive COVID-19 dashboard for our African continent. Please also help disseminate to other stakeholders.

It is safe to say that our world and way of life has never been disrupted like this since the Second World War and it is times like these that call for each and every one of us to stand together and be the agents of change we wish to see in the world.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Head: Software Engineering Division, Instrumentation and Information Technology, iThembaLABS. (Acknowledgements to Bruce Mellado)

This post has first been published by the African Physics Newsletter. © American Physical Society 2020


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