The Centers for Disease Control, now one of the most influential public health organizations in the world, has a surprising origin story. It was founded in Atlanta, Ga., in 1946 to combat malaria, a highly infectious mosquito-born disease that was having a huge impact on Southern states.
Once a major public health issue, malaria was officially eliminated from the United States in 1951, and modern medicine can cure the disease with relative ease. But malaria is far from eradicated in the developing world, and understanding how and why it spreads is a key issue in eliminating the disease worldwide.
That’s why Seattle-based partners PATH, the global health nonprofit, and Tableau, a leading company in data analytics and visualization, have teamed up for the Visualize No Malaria campaign, which is leveraging data analytics and visualization to assist Zambia with its goal to eliminate malaria in the country by 2020.
The two partners, along with the Zambian Ministry of Health, are driving a unique collaboration of private tech companies that use data as a way to understand and combat the disease, informing public health efforts.
“They’re experts around all the interventions you do in Zambia to help control malaria, and we don’t know anything about malaria,” explained Neal Myrick, Tableau’s director of social impact. “What we bring to the table is our expertise around data and data analytics.”
Jeff Bernson, PATH’s director of results management, measurement, and learning, said data from on-the-ground surveillance of a disease is an essential tool for public health efforts — but before Tableau came aboard, PATH was struggling to use that data effectively.
“Like so many public health programs that depend on this type of surveillance, we were sitting on a lot of information and we knew we could do more with it,” Bernson said. “We knew we could gain better and more insights out of that data.”
While some areas of Zambia do make electronic records of malaria cases, and digital reporting is spreading, many areas still record malaria incidents with a pen and paper. Regardless of how they are collected, these records are then aggregated in one program, but the data is complex and difficult to draw findings from.
“If you can imagine looking at 200,000 malaria case records in an Excel spreadsheet, it’s more difficult to figure out where the incidences are higher, where the disease is spreading, and things like that,” Myrick said.
That’s where Tableau steps in.