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Transforming Healthcare: Are Digital Technologies Capable of Controlling Epidemics?

Feature Article | June 23, 2016 by Claudio Muruzabal

Currently, we have a historic opportunity to effectively and sustainably improve healthcare in Latin America. Technology innovations that support our fight against epidemics are already available, and have been successfully used in other parts of the world. However, what do we actually need to make this possibility a reality across our region?

On one hand, we must rethink the traditional approach adopted by our healthcare systems on capturing and organizing data, analyzing it and acting in real time. On the other hand, we must gain the ability to transform current healthcare processes and join forces with government agencies and public control entities to update their regulations and adapt them to the new digital landscape.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel about “Securing the Continent’s Health” at the World Economic Forum on Latin America held in Medellin, Colombia. In the session, we discussed the overarching need to apply technology to ensure healthcare across the region. I pointed out that in the past three years, businesses across our region have made significant progress in digital transformation, but we are clearly lagging in the public healthcare area, especially in those countries with more challenged economies. However, the good news is that throughout the region, public entities are conscious of the value from analyzing Big Data, and consequently, they are assessing their options to deploy innovative technologies to overcome epidemics like zika, chikungunya and dengue.

This is precisely where innovation-driven companies can play a key role and have already taken steps in the right direction. In 2014, at SAP we actively and successfully supported government efforts to control the spread of the ebola virus in Africa. Now, we are directing our efforts to implement this same solution throughout Latin America.

Innovation-driven companies can play a key role in using technology to overcome epidemics like zika

When ebola emerged as an epidemic, there were multiple challenges to deal with, which included controlling a highly contagious disease that was spreading at exponential rates, and crossing borders. To fight it effectively, it was crucial to devise a preventive strategy and enforce strict controls that would help to contain it.

When Nigeria faced the threat of an imminent ebola outbreak, SAP joined forces with various healthcare organizations and developed SORMAS (Surveillance Outbreak and Response Management System). This solution, which runs on the SAP HANA platform and includes a mobile app,  contributes to identify emerging cases and flag suspicious ones, using data analysis to support real time decision-making. In a field trial in Nigeria, SORMAS proved to be very effective and contributed to lower the health risk.

SAP is working with several Latin American governments to define the best way to apply SORMAS as a tool to control epidemics such as zika. This initiative clearly reflects how technological transformation can bring together government agencies, healthcare institutions and private companies, to effectively impact the health of all our citizens.

Without doubt, the innovations from this new digital era are on our side. This is definitely the right time to join forces to build a healthier world.

Claudio Muruzabal is president of SAP Latin America & the Caribbean

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