Government sets up a COVID-19 situational analysis system

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has successfully commissioned and finalised the physical establishment of a core situational awareness platform for COVID-19.


The core of the platform is health data, but the intention is to integrate other types of data into the system to provide holistic decision support to South Africa's National Command Centre for COVID-19.


Speaking during the UNESCO virtual Ministerial Dialogue on COVID-19 and Open Science, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, said experts from the CSIR and the Department of Health were working flat-out to create a range of data warehouses, including for the current geographic spread of the COVID-19 disease, current cases, health vulnerabilities, and local health and other relevant facilities.


"The team has also identified opportunities for accessing key data sets held by the private sector for the explicit purpose of strengthening our situational capacity efforts," said Dr Nzimande, adding that government was counting on the private sector's support in this regard.


The Minister said that initial visualisations had been completed and would be continuously enhanced. He thanked the experts working on the system for their effort and commitment.


Another team, led by the University of Pretoria, is mobilising networks across Africa to build databases on COVID-19 cases. The situation in neighbouring countries is of particular importance for the South African response. South Africa strongly supports efforts to foster African regional cooperation to tackle the pandemic.


The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is running an online survey aimed at obtaining a better understanding of current behaviour and perceptions related to COVID-19. So far, 2 400 people have responded, and a statistician has been commissioned to assess the quality of the responses and data. This will be followed by further analyses over the next two days.


"Through the HSRC, we will also introduce a system of dynamic updates on behaviour and perception issues, as these will change on an almost daily basis," said Dr Nzimande.


"The HSRC is pulling together a range of efforts in this space, including work specifically focused on rural communities, and social media sentiment analysis using natural language processing techniques," he said.


The South African Population Research Infrastructure Network is one of the tools being used to produce up-to-date information on health and socio-economic well-being representative of the country's population, including rural communities. It is hosted by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and falls under the ambit of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap – a programme of the DSI.


Private companies and researchers have expressed willingness to work with government on this project.


Meanwhile, the DSI has made R12 million available for COVID-19 interventions and will redirect an additional R30 million to fight the disease through, among other things, re-purposing and testing the efficacy of several existing drugs for the treatment for COVID-19. Preliminary work on the development of vaccines has started at the University of Cape Town, the CSIR and Biovac.


In addition, a DSI task team is engaging with the Department of Health, the SAMRC and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to facilitate research on the COVID-19 virus by mobilising funding, reprioritising research strategies and creating an enabling ethical and regulatory framework.


Welcoming UNESCO's open science initiatives, South Africa has also urged UNESCO to create a portal for sharing information useful for dealing with COVID-19.


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