QCRI Continues Webinar Series with Focus on COVID-19 Challenges
Hamad Bin Khalifa University

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Qatar Computing Research Institute Continues Webinar Series with Focus on COVID-19 Challenges

09 May 2020

Online engagement explores value of modern technology and mathematical modeling in managing pandemics

Qatar Computing Research Institute Continues Webinar Series with Focus on COVID-19 Challenges

The Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), part of Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), recently presented two online lectures titled Managing Health Services during Pandemics and Epidemiological Modeling as part of its webinar series developed in line with a vision to introduce solutions to significant scientific or technological challenges.

The context for the lectures was the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented challenges for healthcare systems across the globe. This includes establishing a balance between the often-conflicting demand of responding directly to the pandemic, while simultaneously engaging in strategic planning and coordinated action to maintain essential health service delivery. 

Managing Health Services during Pandemics discussed how health services respond to this dual set of demands. It explored operational planning guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as the best practices employed by some of the more mature health systems in the developed world. These provide guidance on targeted actions that countries should consider at national, regional, and local level to maintain access to high-quality essential health services for all. The lecture also reflected on the critical role of modern technology including mobile technology and artificial intelligence (AI) in managing COVID-19, and how this magnified its potential impact on the future of public health. 

Speaking after the lecture, Dr. Faisal Farooq, principal scientist and head of digital health research at QCRI, said: “Emerging technologies have been instrumental in helping healthcare systems cope with the overwhelming demands ushered in by COVID-19. This has also exposed several areas in the healthcare sector that could benefit from modern technology to be better prepared should a future event equally or more devastating than COVID-19 take place.”  
 
The fourth lecture in the series, Epidemiological Modeling, discussed epidemiological models, and the possibility of extending the traditional SIR (susceptible-infected-removed) model to simulate outbreak scenarios under different policies and country specifics. The lecture explored simulating closure or re-opening of specific zones and the relative change in the overall infections rate by modeling the mobility between infected areas. It gave examples demonstrating that, using recent techniques of automatic differentiation, it is possible for researchers to run complex numerical optimization on epidemiological models and obtain accurate results.

Dr. Mohamad Saad, a research scientist in the Data Analytics group at QCRI, said: “Epidemiological models help us to plan effective control strategies to best manage outbreaks such as COVID-19. In this lecture, we have shown that traditional models can be extended to further model more complex dynamics to give us accurate and therefore more useful results. This is particularly significant as governments prepare for easing lockdowns.”

Managing Health Services during Pandemics was delivered by QCRI’s Dr. Stefano Giovanni Rizzo, Dr. Mohamad Saad, and Dr. Sanjay Chawla. The Epidemiological Modeling webinar was delivered by Dr. Faisal Farooq.

QCRI’s upcoming webinars, A Data-Driven Perspective on Drug Discovery and Social Media Analysis, will be held on May 11 and 14 respectively. The webinars are free and can be accessed at https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/data-science-covid-19

QCRI is one of three national research institutes operating under HBKU’s umbrella. The Institute conducts world-class multidisciplinary computing research that is relevant to the needs of Qatar, the wider Arab region, and the world. It performs cutting-edge research in such areas as Arabic language technologies, social computing, data analytics, distributed systems, cyber security and computational science and engineering. 

For more information on the work of Qatar Computing Research Institute, please visit https://www.hbku.edu.qa/en/about-qcri