Battling disease

The next step in dengue control might be an artificial intelligence prediction tool

A machine-learning system harnesses hundreds of parameters ranging from wind speed to local roof architecture to try and predict the next outbreak.

An artificial intelligence system that claims to predict dengue outbreaks up to three months in advance has been rolled out in a Malaysian state — with several cities across Asia and Latin America doing pilot trials.

The machine-learning system harnesses hundreds of parameters ranging from wind speed to local roof architecture to try and predict where the next outbreak will be. It then advises responders on the intervention likely to be most effective in that particular area, such as fogging or removing water pools.
Dengue is a mosquito-borne viral infection that has grown rapidly in recent decades, with half the world’s population at risk. Cases of infection number in their millions every year, with half a million hospitalised with severe dengue, of whom about 13,000 lose their lives to the disease.
In Asia, vector control costs over $300 million annually, while South America spends US 1 billion to control dengue, according to Dhesi Raja, of the Institute for Medical Research Malaysia, who co-invented the system with Rainier Mallol, selected by the UN as a Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Raja, who won a young innovator award from Harvard University’s School of Public Health, told a meeting that the new system grew out of frustration at the current “passive, reactive” way of managing vector-borne disease.

“There is a need for us to do some sort of prediction in real-time,” he told the Geneva Health Forum 2018 last month (April 10 – 12). “A need to log into a system to see what is the amount of reported cases today, where are the cases, where are the outbreaks, where are the predicted outbreaks.
“We have good measures like fumigation, larvicides, GM mosquitoes, we even have Wolbachia [bacteria that reduce the ability of insects to become infected with viruses], but the point is if we do not know when and where this outbreak might occur we spend a lot on unplanned management and nationwide campaigns.”
The system is known as AIME (Artificial Intelligence in Medical Epidemiology). As doctors in the state send in notifications of dengue cases, they feed automatically into the system which then searches through over 90 databases for 276 variables that influence its spread — from local terrain and elevation to roofing types, thunderstorms, water accumulation and population density.
From these, Raja says it deduces where the next outbreaks will be within a 400-metre radius.
The team has tested the system in Manila in the Philippines, the states of Selangor and Penang in Malaysia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil — comparing what AIME predicted with what actually unfolded. It matched reality with an accuracy of 81 to 84 per cent, Raja told the meeting based on unpublished data.
The state of Penang started using the system at the beginning of 2018, paying $120,000 to run it over the next year.

Oliver Brady, assistant professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who is working with the Vietnamese Ministry of Health on predicting dengue outbreaks using satellite data, questions the model’s statistical power to identify meaningful relationships between a “vast array of covariants”, on the one hand, and “the number of dengue cases in an area — which is a very, very small dataset”.

Brady says machine-learning systems can work well for a while, but their value wanes with time. “If your system is really, really good at predicting outbreaks then someone will go out and start fogging, insecticiding in the predicted area — and the transmission dynamics change. So all those important relationships that you’ve been learning over your past years of data might now be completely different”.
But Raja is reporting early signs of success: cases of the disease in one Malaysian state have fallen by three-quarters in the four months since it began operations, he says, careful to note that there is no proof the link is causal.

This article wad first published on SciDev.Net.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”


“Like what?”


A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”




“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:


This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.