girl with mask on airplane (ShutterStock image)

CDC wants better data to manage global communicable diseases

To better understand how diseases travel with international airline passengers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeking advanced global aviation intelligence data and analytical tools to enhance the agency’s ability to analyze global aviation patterns.

In a request for proposals posted Feb. 16, the CDC said it needs more advanced data and tools because  air travel has become an increasingly common conduit for the spread of disease.

“The need is immediate and ongoing for a single, secure, and web-based global aviation database and analytical application to support analysis of aviation global capacity and domestic and international passenger traffic (historical and future),” the RFP said.

The solicitation doesn’t describe the agency’s current abilities, saying only that since 2010 it has used historic passenger volumes and flight schedules “to perform extensive aviation analyses.”

The CDC wants to be able to do online queries on a database that includes airline schedules dating back five years and one year into the future; historical passenger data dating back five years; and Department of Transportation data on the flight as well as on the origin and destination and itinerary of passengers. All data would need to be provided in a flat file and regularly updated; a  CDC also wants 24/7 access to data via a web-based analytical and visualization application as well as a query tool.

The data and tools will be used to provide reports to U.S. and international public health partners to support risk assessment, surveillance, preparedness, emergency response and other public health activities, the RFP said.

The solicitation doesn’t specifically mention the Ebola outbreak, but the world witnessed how air travel had the potential to spread disease when the virus tore through Africa in 2014 and 2015 and was brought to the U.S. by a health worker who flew on a commercial airline after having worked with Ebola patients.

The Department of Homeland Security’s John P. Wagner spoke about the current limits of air travel data when testifying in 2014 to the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee on the U.S. public health response to the outbreak.

“We have the ability to use the data that the airlines give us to be able to see where travel is originating from,” said Wagner, who was then the acting assistant commissioner of the Office of Field Operations, Customs and Border Protection.

Although that data may not include information on passengers’ intermediate stops, “through our questioning and our review of their passport, we can identify that they have been to these affected regions or if they come through one of the borders,” he explained.

In the same hearing, Thomas R. Frieden, then director of the CDC, said data was a part of the agencies’ response to the Ebola outbreak.

“The public health response to Ebola rests on the same proven public health approaches that we employ for other outbreaks, and many of our experts are working in the affected countries to rapidly apply these approaches and build local capacity,” Frieden said in his written testimony. “These include strong surveillance and epidemiology, using real time data to improve rapid response; case-finding and tracing of the contacts of Ebola patients to identify those with symptoms and monitor their status; and strong laboratory networks that allow rapid diagnosis.”

Responses to the RFP are due March 10.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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