A ground-breaking platform that generates projections based on a combination of selected scenarios and aids some of our leaders to make informed decisions is now at the frontlines of our country’s battle against the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-temporal Epidemiological Modeler for Early Detection of Diseases (FASSSTER) platform is now an important component in our government’s arsenal to help monitor and project the spread of COVID-19 in various locations in the country, according to Ateneo Professor and FASSSTER Project Head Dr. Ma. Regina Justina Estuar.
The program was discussed in depth during the Acts of Magis: Ateneans at the Forefront of a Pandemic webinar held last Friday, May 8. The webinar on FASSSTER is the first of four webinars that are scheduled to be held all Fridays of May. The webinar was helmed by Dr. Estuar and organized by the Ateneo de Manila University Research Council (URC) together with the Ateneo Research Institute of Science and Engineering (ARISE).
Dr. Estuar underscored the inherent value of the platform especially today, with a continued uptick in the number of cases in our country.
“There is a need for analytics for decision-making that is grounded in science. There is a need for an engine that can’t be turned off, to adjust to everyday feedback to synchronize with real data, to provide baseline numbers for simulated scenarios,” Dr. Estuar said. “If FASSSTER can do that, then FASSSTER can be the platform for COVID-19 in the Philippines.”
The platform has been used in various places in the country and various instances in the past, but in January, with the threat of the disease looming, Dr. Estuar emailed the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development to say that FASSSTER may be useful as we face the, at that time, possible spread of the virus in the country. In March, before the declaration of an enhanced community quarantine, FASSSTER than COVID-19 was formally launched.
FASSSTER outputs three things: the spatiotemporal spread of the disease or the transmission of the disease within a given time and area; the population at risk; and it also detects the early onset of an outbreak.
The FASSSTER platform sources its data from the Department of Health’s (DOH) Epidemiology Bureau COVID System, the Data Collect System of the Health Department, the Tanod COVID self-screening app, and other data sources in relation to security, social, and economic data.
From these data, FASSSTER presents a simulation platform where users can select scenarios based on different types of interventions they have put in place such as community quarantines, health interventions such as increasing the number of tests conducted, medical facilities, and contact tracing capacity, and individual interventions such as frequent handwashing and usage of face masks.
“What we provide are not the direct answers. What we give is a visualization tool that will enable users to see how our situation looks like today, and how our situation will change tomorrow, how we are going to affect our neighbors. That’s what we give them and we help them interpret it as well,” Dr. Estuar said.
While the Philippines continues to fight the spread of COVID-19, having relevant data that decision-makers can use as they chart the course of the country in the future is of paramount importance. And with the help of FASSSTER and the team of Dr. Estuar, the country is equipped with a tool that it can rely on as we try to win the war against COVID-19.
“The contribution of FASSSTER is providing a simulation to project those numbers. So, even if it’s not as accurate as we want it to be, it may not be as exact, but at least we have the data that we can see,” Dr. Estuar said.
To watch the entire webinar of Dr. Estuar about FASSSTER please click this link https://youtu.be/KXQbHaxiSCY. To stay updated about the other Acts of Magis: Ateneans at the Forefront of a Pandemic webinars scheduled to be held every Friday of May, visit facebook.com/ateneodemanila.