EPIWORK EBOLA
A model developed by the EU to forecast infectious diseases is proving useful in the present Ebola outbreak.Thinkstock

An EU-designed disease forecasting model had accurately predicted that Ebola will have infected between 14,000 and 22,000 people (number of reported cases) in West Africa by the end of November 2014.

According to the World Health Organization, 6,928 people are known to have died from Ebola and more than 16,000 have been infected by end of November.

The Global Epidemic and Mobility Model (GLEaM) was developed by the EU's EPIWORK research project which ended in 2013.

The model is now available for laboratories around the world to help predict the spread of global diseases such as Ebola.

GLEaM produces simulations of the spread of infectious diseases by combining real-world data on populations and human mobility with elaborate stochastic models of disease transmission.

It uses data such as daily airline passenger traffic, censuses, hospital admissions and medical services, funeral attendances, and even information submitted from mobile phones.

Professor Vespignani, EPIWORK project leader, now head of the Laboratory for the Modeling of Biological Socio-Technical Systems (MOBS LAB) at Northeastern University in Boston, US, "We began using the model for Ebola in July this year, when the disease started to show exponential growth in West Africa. We are also looking at the possibility of Ebola spreading worldwide. In the case of Ebola, so far the predictions of reported cases have been accurate within the probability range the model calculates."

The EPIWORK project involved collecting epidemiological data during the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 influenza, commonly known as 'swine flu'.

Daniela Paolotti, an epidemiologist at Italy's ISI (Institute for Scientific Interchange) Foundation, the institution which coordinated EPIWORK, added, "The focus for GLEaM in 2009 was the H1N1 influenza pandemic, but it was always meant to be extended to other infectious diseases. The idea was to build a framework that could be used for new emerging diseases and as a result it has been able to be adapted to Ebola, too."

During the EPIWORK project, researchers also developed 'Influenzanet', a system to monitor the activity of influenza-like-illness (ILI). It provides additional information for epidemiologists and public health scientists.

In many countries involved in Influenzanet, the web data is published weekly on government surveillance websites as an annex to the official data.

There have been other models too which have forecast as many as 1.5 million cases of Ebola by end of January.

While the UN had hoped to be able to control the spread and bring down the numbers by December 1, the situation in Sierra Leone has made this goal unachievable. The total death toll has crossed 7000 with most of the deaths in the three West African nations.