COVID-19: Q&A on designing a global pandemic surveillance system

April 23, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to plateau across the US, national and regional surveillance plans to monitor for COVID-19 outbreaks are taking shape. But a global surveillance program could be beneficial to avoid these outbreaks in the first place. HRI spoke with PwC partner Vitaly Glozman on what a global surveillance program could look like to avoid future pandemics.

PwC Health Research Institute (HRI):

What is the state of infectious disease surveillance programs in the US to monitor and quickly respond to infectious outbreaks?

Vitaly Glozman, Partner, PwC Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences Operations:

COVID-19 has exposed the weakness with the global surveillance systems. We have a problem of both collecting data and not drawing the signals out of the noise of the data, which has contributed to a relatively slow realization of the virus severity and an inadequate initial response.

My hope is that a lot of lessons will be learned from this coronavirus pandemic and that going forward, we will improve our surveillance abilities to better collect the right data and understand what we do with that data and how to act on it much more quickly and effectively than we did with COVID-19.

HRI: As part of plans to reopen the US economy, surveillance programs for COVID-19 have been proposed that include robust testing and contact tracing. What types of data or information are being collected or could be collected today that will help inform the development of a surveillance system for the next pandemic?

Vitaly Glozman: More sociodemographic data that should be combined with the scientific data to do the surveillance and predict where and how the pandemics will hit. Examples of sociodemographic data focus on population vitals like age, climate and temperature, and comorbidities such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma.

Some of the specific immune markers such as natural killer cells and lymphocyte levels are also important inputs into surveillance models. We can do this for COVID-19 “echo” waves going forward but also to proactively identify the onset of other future pandemics.

My hope is that a lot of lessons will be learned from this coronavirus pandemic and that going forward, we will improve our surveillance abilities to better collect the right data and understand what we do with that data and how to act on it much more quickly and effectively than we did with COVID-19.

HRI: When we think about a global surveillance system, aggregating and analyzing different and vast amounts of data, who are the stakeholders who should be involved?

Vitaly Glozman: There will need to be some coordination of surveillance data, because it’s all being collected by different entities: NGOs, governmental agencies, providers. Even for something as well known as polio, there are a lot of entities involved in trying to collect data and make sure that it is eradicated. You have to have an agency or actor that pulls the data sets all together and integrates the data to make sense of it.

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Vitaly Glozman

Partner, PwC US

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