Olympics organisers must map health risks

Tools that predict the global spread of infections may be crucial for planning health service needs during the 2012 Olympics, researchers say.

Aerial view showing a section of the Olympic Stadium (Photograph: London 2012)
Aerial view showing a section of the Olympic Stadium (Photograph: London 2012)

Understanding global air travel patterns before and during large gatherings is critical for public health officials deciding which outbreaks warrant greatest attention.

Dr Kamran Khan from St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada, points out that internet-based surveillance systems for global disease outbreaks can help track and predict global population movements.

For example, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network and Health Map monitors global disease activity and Bio Diaspora tracks air travel (video below).

Such tools allowed researchers to assess potential threats leading up to, during and after the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

But researchers believe the 2012 Olympic Games in London will be the real test of the use of such tools to provide real risk assessments.

Using visitor numbers to London from past years, the researchers have created models to help inform London’s planning for the Olympics this year.

Writing about the findings, Dr Khan said data from different sources would need to be pulled together for such information to be useful.

‘An integrated platform of this kind could help identify the most effective public health measures to mitigate the risk of disease importation and local spread,’ they said.

Information needs to be integrated at both local and global levels, they said.

‘These systems remain weakly connected to local surveillance efforts, including those of mass gatherings,’ they commented.

The researchers said there also needed to be greater cooperation to encourage joint working between countries with common infectious disease threats.

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