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Experts Develop New Tool to Help Contain COVID-19 in Latin America

The tool, officially called the State-Level Observatory for the Containment of COVID-19, presents a daily portrait on the extent of social distancing measures adopted by state governments in Latin America, in accordance with international recommendations, the timeliness of their adoption, and the population’s response in terms of reduced mobility.

Mexico, for example, has entered the most critical phase of COVID-19 Phase 3 involves maximum intensification of measures to decrease virus transmission and deaths. Now more than ever, it is critical to have accurate and timely information on the measures to contain the disease, as well as to know whether the population is complying with the measures.

Felicia M. Knaul, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas at the University of Miami, with experts from the Miller School of Medicine's Department of Public Health Sciences, UM's College of Arts and Sciences and School of Communication, organizations across the country and leading researchers from Mexico, have created and shared a new tool that will help access this information.

“Resource-poor health systems in Latin America are going to be much harder hit by this pandemic than anything we have seen in Canada or the United States. It is crucial that policymakers at the state level have reliable data to monitor and inform their efforts to contain COVID-19,” said Dr. Knaul, who is also a professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences. “Experts from across the University of Miami and Mexico built this tool as a public good and largely working as volunteers, hoping that it can be used to save lives. I am especially grateful for the generous contributions of my colleagues from the Department of Public Health Sciences.”

The new observatory – developed by Raymond Balise, Ph.D., professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences and Layla Bouzoubaa, M.S.P.H., a lead research analyst at the Miller School of Medicine – is the only database that provides information on the behavior of public policy towards COVID-19 at the state level in Latin America and is innovative for low- and middle-income countries.

The first contribution of the observatory is the calculation of an index based on the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) – a tool developed by the University of Oxford that consists of a list of measures available to governments to reduce the speed of transmission of the virus. 

The University of Miami-led observatory is based on the OxCGRT framework and codifies the response of the state governments in Mexico, based on the information available on the official websites of each of the states.

UM experts used the OxCGRT to identify seven preventive measures relevant to the situation in Mexico. They include: 

  • Closing schools
  • Suspending on-site work activities
  • Canceling public events
  • Suspending public transportation
  • Developing information campaigns
  • Restricting travel and travel within the state
  • Controlling international travel and travelers.

For each state, each of the seven public policies mentioned is measured on a daily basis, starting from the date of the first officially recognized case in the country, which was on February 27. Experts note that each data passes through three independent reviews before being added to the database.

The observatory reviews not only what has been done so far, but also what is being done at the moment in order to contain COVID-19. Experts note that they have made it available to the public and state authorities to provide timely information that will help make better decisions for the future.

The observatory is in its initial phase and experts are looking at the next steps, such as:

  • To update the composite indicator based on the 5.0 version of the OxCGRT
  • Add key data on mortality and cases and access to health services, as well as to secondary effects such as domestic violence and economic downturn, to expand the scope of the tool.
  • Link the observatory with other information sources and databases to strengthen the global capacity to respond to the pandemic. The first would be the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
  • Build and make available information on other countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region, starting with the case of Brazil.
  • Conduct a political, epidemiological, and economic science analysis, as the information becomes available, and publish the results in a timely manner. 

“Our primary goal in building and deploying the website was to disseminate information on COVID-19 and the policies that can help contain it as quickly as possible. Because teaching is my passion, my secondary goal was to build a platform that can be used for teaching data science,” said Dr. Balise. “During the first summer session, Layla Bouzoubaa and I will be teaching a class in the Medical School that focuses on the data science behind this project. Our students will learn about the pipeline we built that pulls in data, processes it, and produce the website. In the upcoming days, we will release all the code and the data to allow people from around the world to expand on what we have built.”

“There is an excellent team driving this initiative forward and every day I get the chance to observe experts in the fields of Global Health and Public Health Policy in action,” added Bouzoubaa, who is an alumna of the M.S.P.H. program in the Department of Public Health Sciences. “Applying my programming skills towards building something that has the potential to make a significant impact on a multi-national scale is immensely rewarding. Working with people across the hemisphere with such deep knowledge of health policy, statistics, visualization, and communication is every data scientist’s dream.”

Visit the State Observatory for the Containment of COVID-19 here.

Written by Amanda Torres 
Published on May 11, 2020