One of the scary things out there is the potential spread of infectious diseases such as avian influenza (bird flu), dengue fever, and other dangerous viruses. The challenge has always been to try to gain an understanding of how they spread — what they will do next. Will the virus mutate? Will it jump across continents? Where are the greatest vulnerabilities? Can the path be predicted in time to get vaccine to the next area? There is now new hope to get our arms around these questions and more. IBM is donating some very sophisticated software to help scientists and public health officials build digital models of infectious diseases to help understand and plan more efficient responses to potential health crises. The software is known as Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM for short) and is one of the key technologies being used in the Global Pandemic Initiative, a collaborative effort of IBM and over twenty major worldwide public health institutions, including the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
The Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler (STEM) tool is designed to help scientists and public health officials create and use spatial and temporal models of emerging infectious diseases. The models can not only aid in understanding diseases, but potentially even prevent them. The software, which was designed so that it will work on any type of computer, creates a graphical representation of the spread of a disease based on a variety of parameters such as population, geographic and macro-economic data, roadmaps, airport locations, travel patterns and bird migratory routes around the world. STEM also facilitates collaboration between governments, scientific researchers and other players in the public health community who can share the customized epidemiological models that STEM creates.
Policymakers responsible for creating strategies to contain diseases and prevent epidemics need an accurate understanding of disease dynamics and the likely outcomes of preventive actions. In an increasingly connected world with extremely efficient global transportation links, the patterns of infection can be quite complex. STEM allows the building of models involving multiple populations (species) and interactions between diseases. It would be speculative to say for sure but STEM is potentially a breakthrough that will large numbers of lives in the years ahead.
For any techies out there that want to download STEM, you can find it here. If you would rather just see a CNBC movie clip about it, take a look here.