UWI scientists provide daily COVID-19 surveillance and monitoring

Daily surveillance and modelling of COVID-19 from the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre (GA-CDRC) at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) is now publicly available to provide evidence-based decision-making in the Caribbean. The Centre’s reports gathered currently from 20 Caribbean countries can be accessed at www.uwi.edu/covid19/surveillance.

It functions as an ‘observatory’ for confirmed COVID-19 cases, deaths and outbreak growth rates for fourteen (14) CARICOM countries and six UK Overseas Territories, as well as regional heat map models. These daily surveillance updates and summary reports produced by UWI researchers were recently presented at a special emergency meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government. They received the endorsement of CARICOM’s Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) and are made available to aid governments and the public in their COVID-19 response efforts. The Centre is particularly working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to model the epidemic and project healthcare needs.

Professor of Biostatistics at the GA-CDRC, Ian Hambleton noted that surveillance “is vital for the work and the responses we are now making in this crisis. We’ve all had to be slightly reactionary when it comes to the surveillance process across the world.” He also cautioned, “If we are to get ahead of the potential next crisis now is the time to be thinking about the resilience of our surveillance structures.”

Professor Hambleton was speaking during an online discussion hosted by the GA-CDRC scientists on April 22 entitled, UWI on the frontline: Combatting COVID-19 through data. Commenting on the importance of this kind of research being made widely available he said, “We are no longer isolated communities. We are not even an isolated region. We are part of one big global community. For me that means a renewed understanding of how we need to openly share data. The more data we can share and the more openly, the better we can inform governments and communities on how they can respond to these issues.”

Deputy Dean of Research at the Centre, Dr Madhuvanti Murphy clarified how surveillance is used to inform decision-making that can impact trajectories on non-pharmaceutical interventions such as ‘national lockdowns’. She and the other scientists on the panel acknowledged that many regional governments began implementing interventions early; some even before having reported their first case in an effort to suppress the epidemic. Adding to this, Professor Hambleton stressed the need for surveillance to inform countries’ decisions going forward. “It’s really important to say that it’s still very early days for the Caribbean. The outbreak picture is going to change daily so daily monitoring of new cases and new deaths can guide changes to national responses and it can contribute in the future to discussions of when governments might consider a gentle easing of the controls that they currently have in place,” he said.

Dr Kim Quimby, Senior Lecturer in Immunology at GA-CDRC echoed this, pointing out that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified guidelines for countries to lift restrictions that were put in place to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region but cautioned that increased testing and heightened surveillance will be key to achieving that goal.

The team of panellists on the forum also included Dr Natasha Sobers, Lecturer in Public Health and Epidemiology and the session was jointly moderated by Drs Natalie Greaves and Heather Harewood, Lecturers in Public Health at The UWI Cave Hill Campus’ Faculty of Medical Sciences.

The recorded broadcast of the discussion forum: ‘UWI on the frontline: Combatting COVID-19 through data’ will air on UWItv’s cable channel on Flow EVO on Saturday May 2, 2020 at 9:00 p.m. JA / 10:00 p.m. EC and Sunday May 3, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. JA / 10:00 a.m. EC.

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