As witnessed during the West African Ebola epidemic of 2014-16 and today’s COVID-19 pandemic, disease outbreaks can spread rapidly, resulting in unprecedented social and economic costs and tragic loss of life.
In response to these health crises, new digital approaches to disease surveillance have emerged, aimed at speeding up the transfer of epidemiological data and increasing countries’ preparedness for future outbreaks.
Receiving EUR 850 000 from the European Union, the SORMAS (Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System) software is an initiative of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in cooperation with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). SORMAS grew directly out of the experience of tackling Ebola in Nigeria. It is one of few programmes to provide comprehensive disease surveillance and outbreak management in a single digital platform, processing real-time data critical for tackling deadly disease outbreaks.
SORMAS was designed to improve the efficiency and timeliness of disease control measures. The entry of a suspected or confirmed case by a health worker at any level of the system automatically triggers a series of actions to ensure that it is managed quickly and efficiently. This system also allows different actors in the national surveillance and response system to receive and share new information which is immediately accessible to all those who need to see it.
Health workers in an Ebola-affected area in Nigeria hand over samples for laboratory testing
Using this data, the platform is able to generate early warnings of potential outbreaks and activate response measures using real-time data to help manage and control the outbreak.
The platform’s ability to keep pace with the constantly evolving medical and epidemiological situation was demonstrated recently by the rapid activation of a disease surveillance module for the COVID-19 coronavirus, in response to WHO's declaration of a public health emergency of international concern in January 2020.
With EU support, SORMAS has come a long way since the development of an early prototype and its field testing in Nigeria in 2014-15. By early 2020, the platform had been introduced in two regions of Ghana, and rolled out to 15 Nigerian states covering a population of some 75 million people.
To date, the platform covers more than 12 epidemic-prone, high-priority diseases, including COVID-19, and allows for the immediate inclusion of new diseases as they emerge.
In 2019, SORMAS achieved the status of a Digital Global Good thanks to its flexible design and open-source software, which facilitates its dissemination in new countries and means users are well positioned to keep pace with the emergence of new diseases as well as with medical and IT innovations.
For more information and the full report:
Elsie Ilori, Head of Surveillance and Epidemiology at NCDC, presents data on disease outbreaks from the SORMAS dashboard