Researchers are spotting drug-resistant superbugs before they break out and reimagining biosecurity at a regional level to stop the spread of infectious diseases. Scientists at Murdoch University are contributing research that is strengthening our understanding of infectious diseases and how to stop them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the devastating impact of infectious diseases. Millions of people have died and millions more have suffered from the wider health, economic and social impacts. Stopping infectious diseases has been identified by the World Health Organisation as one of the most urgent health challenges of this decade and is now in sharp focus.
Overcoming antimicrobial resistance
Antimicrobial resistance, when infectious organisms no longer respond to medicines, is a major challenge in managing infectious diseases. It occurs when bacteria change over time, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death. Overcoming this challenge requires a One Health approach – which recognises that the health of humans, animals and ecosystems are interconnected.
At Murdoch University’s state-of-the-art Antimicrobial Resistance and Infectious Diseases (AMRID) Laboratory, Associate Professor in Microbiology Sam Abraham leads the One Health Infectious Diseases research team. Associate Professor Sam Abraham, “Globally, there is a significant public health concern due to the transfer of such bacteria to humans via food and the environment, the limited therapeutic options to treat such infection in humans and the rapid transmission of genes responsible for antimicrobial resistance into human pathogens.”
This is a concern that precedes and extends beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic, with research from the team exploring how Australian animals may acquire bacteria resistant to last-line antimicrobials. Their research has shown that Australia currently has low levels of resistance to last-line antimicrobials in livestock due to the regulation of antimicrobial use, Australia’s geographical isolation and strong biosecurity.
“It’s crucial that we keep it that way, so the use of technology and antimicrobial resistance surveillance is important,” said Dr Abraham.
Embracing technology to beat bacteria
The team is using innovative robotics, genomics and microbiology to study antimicrobial resistance in key zoonotic bacteria emerging in Australian animals. Dr Abraham noted that most countries are using low numbers of samples for antimicrobial resistance surveillance, which is not going to help find emerging issues until it is too late. “We need to use high-throughput robotics and genomics with rapid turn-around time for analysing large data sets to identify emerging problems quickly and respond to those problems rapidly.”
The facility has used its platforms in several national antimicrobial surveillance programs in livestock. It has also been used for surveillance of wild bird species including seagulls and pigeons, finding them to be carriers and potential spreaders of highly drug-resistant superbugs. “Twenty per cent of Australian seagulls are carriers of human pathogens capable of causing serious human infections such as meningitis, sepsis, and urinary tract infection,” said Dr Abraham.
So, the major issue in Australia is the threat of human-derived drug-resistant bacteria entering livestock systems directly or indirectly via wild birds through sewage and waste disposal. Their research has demonstrated the emergence of last line drug-resistant bacteria – at low frequency – in livestock, companion animals and wildlife as a result of human-derived bacteria entering the animals directly or in-directly through birds. This poses a significant risk to animal and human health and our ability to control such infections.
Dr Abraham’s research has helped inform national and international approaches to combatting antimicrobial resistance – including assisting with the process that developed Australia’s National One Health Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy.
Optimising surveillance and biosecurity
Another area of research expertise contributing to a better understanding of infectious diseases is focused on disease surveillance systems and how biosecurity systems operate. Led by Professor of Biosecurity Simon McKirdy, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Harry Butler Institute, this research is looking at the development of biosecurity systems to ensure that they operate cost-effectively and in an efficient manner that protects people, agriculture and the environment.
“Our work centres on developing robust surveillance systems that can deliver results that decision-makers can utilise – both as an early warning tool and also for real-time decision making during a response to a disease outbreak,” said Professor McKirdy.
The key elements include having robust and appropriate risk analysis to understand the threats and mitigation measures. Then having an effective surveillance system that is linked to diagnostics and provides a high level of confidence in detecting threats and collecting the right number of samples to give us statistical strength to say this is the current presence or level of disease within the community, McKirdy says.
The unfolding COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having robustly designed surveillance systems and how these are presented to the community, along with the need to focus on the wider One Health relationships. The human world, in relation to biosecurity surveillance, can learn a lot from the animal and plant world. The more we can bring these One Health aspects together, the better will be the outcome,” said Professor McKirdy.
The Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) introduced a code of conduct on social networks to create a safe online environment. The new regulations address organisations and individuals that use social networks and social network service providers in Vietnam. It is designed to ensure civil liberty and freedom to run businesses and prevent discrimination between domestic and foreign service providers. This is in line with international standards, practices, and treaties to which Vietnam is a signatory.
According to a press release, the code of conduct encourages organisations and individuals to share information from official and reliable sources and behave in ways that match Vietnam’s “traditional moral and cultural values”. The document also requires organisations and individuals not to use words that incite hatred or trigger violence and gender and religious discrimination. Not to publish content that violates legal regulations and information defaming others, not to spread fake news and untrue information, and not to conduct illegal advertising.
Users should use their real name when registering for social networks and register with the service provider to certify their names, website addresses, and contacts. The code of conduct on social networks only offers recommendations, and individuals and organisations committing violations will be punished in line with the law, according to Do Quy Vu, the Deputy Director of the National Institute of Information and Communications Strategy under MIC.
In an interview, after the code of conduct was issued by the MIC, Vu noted that punishments for illegal violations on social networks have been prescribed in Vietnam’s laws. The code of conduct gathers rules on behaviours, moral, and cultural standards on social networks, which are recommended for individuals, organisations, and social network service providers. It targets three major groups, including social network users; officials, cadres, and employees in state agencies; and social network service providers.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister approved an e-government development strategy towards the digital government in the 2021-2025 period, with a vision to 2030. This is the first time that Vietnam has issued a strategy on developing the e-government, as OpenGov Asia had reported. The strategy outlines several tasks, including operating specialised network infrastructure securely, connecting four administrative levels from central to commune level, and building a government cloud computing platform. The government will develop the National Data Exchange Platform and application platforms on mobile devices for all e-government and digital government services.
Further, the government will complete the National Public Service Portal, build the National Data Portal, and build a platform for working and collaborating on the digital environment and a virtual assistant platform. The strategy will develop and complete the government reporting information system, the National Document Communication Axis, and the national bidding network system. Further, it will build a system to analyse and process big data that will ensure national cybersecurity. It will also build a support system to coordinate and respond to cybersecurity incidents. It will develop and perfect the government’s specialised digital signature authentication system.
The strategy also outlines the roles and responsibilities of ministries, industries, and local governments in leveraging digital technologies like cloud computing, big data, mobility, the Internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain. The release said that the strategy will create a breakthrough in the development of e-government, contributing to the successful implementation of Vietnam’s digital transformation goals, which are based on three pillars: a digital government, economy, and society.
A company spun out of the University of Wollongong (UoW) to commercialise breakthrough Australian hydrogen electrolyser technology, officially opened its doors today with $5 million in funding led by a British-based Intellectual property firm, with support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).
The company is developing a new hydrogen electrolyser that has the potential to significantly shift the economics of green hydrogen production, bringing the Australian Government’s $2/kg target within reach.
The technology has been proven at lab-scale and the company, which has strong scientific, engineering and commercialisation experience, is now focused on developing and commercialising a full-scale system. The firm is based at UOW’s Australian Institute for Innovative Materials.
Electrolysers, which use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, are the key technology for producing green hydrogen. The electrolyser is based on breakthrough Australian technology developed by a team from the UOW headquartered ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), led by chemical catalysis and characterisation expert Professor Gerry Swiegers.
Professor Swiegers has an outstanding track record in commercialisation, as the inventor of over 50 patent families and the founder of six start-ups, which have received an estimated $100 million in investment.
Inexpensive green hydrogen is needed for the decarbonisation of multiple industries to put Australia on a path to net-zero by 2050. Years of work from a great team at the University of Wollongong, along with great facilities and government funding are coming to fruition in a company that has the potential to have a global impact, he added.
The Head of Physical Sciences at the Australian branch of the IP firm and the Interim CEO at the tech company stated that the firm represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to reshape an industry. “I’m delighted to be working with Professor Swiegers and the team at the University of Wollongong to bring this technology to market. This will have an impact both economically and environmentally on our path to net-zero” he said.
The Managing Director of the IP firm’s Australian arm noted that they have been looking globally for new technology that can unlock the trillion-dollar opportunity in hydrogen. He added that the UOW spin-off firm’s technology is truly world-leading and that the IP group looks forward to helping the team in their mission to make green hydrogen a reality for Australia and the world. These developments are based on significant fundamental research that is taken from the translational pathway by a team with technical and commercial skills fully integrated.
The UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) noted that the innovative technology developed by Professor Swiegers and his team exemplifies the University’s ambition to deliver fundamental research that leads to impactful change. “UoW’s research and innovation strategy is focused on creating knowledge for a better world, underpinned by our prioritisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include the goals of affordable and clean energy, and climate change mitigation,” he said.
Green hydrogen is widely acknowledged to be a crucial part of reaching net-zero emissions globally, with the potential to meet up to 20 per cent of energy demand in a net-zero global economy. It enables deep decarbonisation of hard-to-abate sectors, with potential applications including steel, heavy transport, shipping, aviation, chemicals, seasonal storage in the electricity sector, and gas grids.
It also presents an enormous economic opportunity, with the global demand of trillions of dollars expected by 2050. Hydrogen and derivatives like ammonia represent a multi-billion-dollar export opportunity for Australia, due to its excellent renewable energy resources, ample land and established status as a leading energy exporter.
Amid the social restrictions and quarantine policies imposed during the global spread of COVID-19, human mobility patterns changed dramatically. To better understand the relationships between human mobility, government policies and cases of COVID-19, U.S. researchers have developed an interactive web application that illustrates the connections between human mobility, government policies, and cases of COVID-19.
The app was built with data from three independent sources: a map, which provides data on human movement via walking, driving and public transportation; COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, which provides data on government policies implemented during the pandemic; and global cases of COVID-19. Users can select a specific state or county in the U.S. as well as another country and see how mobility and COVID-19 cases changed over time or in response to government policies or social circumstances.
At a macro level, understanding movement patterns of people can help influence decision making for higher-level policies, like social gathering restrictions, mask recommendations, and tracking and tracing the spread of infectious diseases. At a local level, understanding the movement of people can lead to more specific decisions, like where to set up testing sites or vaccination sites.
Since the initial launch, the researchers have continued to update the application with appropriate data at regular intervals. The web application produces interesting visualisations that can reveal fascinating trends specific to a given area that might otherwise not be recognised.
During their exploration of the data, the researchers found a handful of case studies that suggested interesting trends. For example, in New Orleans, the application shows a spike in human mobility at the end of February 2020, which coincided with Mardi Gras celebrations. Coincidentally, there was a corresponding spike in COVID-19 cases almost a month after the event.
Although the application is specific to the pandemic, the framework could be modified rather easily to create a similar application for natural disasters as long as appropriate data sets are available. Understanding historic mobility patterns are needed for policymakers to make informed decisions regarding transportation systems and other areas both under normal circumstances and in response to extreme events like a pandemic or a natural disaster.
According to a page, this data shows the number of COVID-19-related policy responses taken by the government on a given day. Indicators include containment and closure policies such as school closures, workplace closures, public event cancellations, restrictions on gatherings, public transportation closures, stay at home requirements, restrictions on internal movement, and international travel controls. Other indicators include health system policies such as public information campaigns, testing policies, contact tracing, and facial covering policies.
Other U.S. researchers have also been using data by an online tool to provide insights into people’s online behaviour, specifically people’s response to COVID-19. As reported by OpenGov Asia, A research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) develops an online tool called CitizenHelper. This tool can sort through millions of tweets to identify behaviours that could assist emergency agencies and give them an understanding of the population’s attitudes. The tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to filter the posts and then determine the relevance and information level of each tweet.
The tool helps these researchers to scale work that would be difficult for humans to do alone. The head of the research team says that humans are good at contextual understanding to filter content but they cannot scale. Machines, on the other hand, are good at scaling, but they do not deeply understand the context very well. Hence, a human-AI teaming approach is invaluable. The algorithms need humans to help them improve their accuracy. CitizenHelper allows this very seamless interactive mechanism for humans and computers. The humans can provide feedback to the machine on what the machine has predicted.
Vietnam has introduced an artificial intelligence (AI) application that issues warnings when facemasks are not being worn on public transport. The computer vision app alerts authorities of passengers who are not wearing or improperly wearing masks. The app is connected to surveillance cameras on public transport vehicles and can access image data and automatically analyse it. It sends appropriate notifications to the server of the transport company if it detects someone not wearing a mask or wearing one incorrectly.
The app, which was introduced earlier this month, was developed by the Binh Anh Electronic Technology Development Co. (BA GPS). The company’s Chairman said AI technology not only brings about many benefits to public transport owners but also helps improve safety for passengers. According to a news report, other apps developed by BA GPS are to be piloted on public transport soon. The country is promoting technology in the form of health declaration sites, contact tracing, and testing applications to fight against the virus. Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh recently affirmed that technology is one of the three prongs of the COVID-19 response strategy in the new period.
The Deputy Minister of Science and Technology and head of the quick information response team at the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control said the team has continually applied technology to evaluate the situation. They use it to make a forecast on the pandemic’s developments in Vietnam and the world, set up mechanisms for monitoring people entering Vietnam and those under quarantine, and gear up response plans for special circumstances.
A group of scientists from the Medicine Faculty at the Vietnam National University Ho Chi Minh (HCM) City has unveiled a technological solution that combined the internet of things (IoT) with AI to concurrently manage people in quarantine sites and crowded places. Further, medical and delivery robots have been put into use at quarantine sites to replace health workers in transporting food, medicine, and essential goods and collecting waste, thus minimising direct contact. Many other organisations have also created a number of high-quality scientific and technological products such as testing kits and vaccines and commercialised them to help with the pandemic combat.
BKAV, a cybersecurity and software company, developed Bluezone- a contact tracing application. Bluezone is believed to be the most effective tracking solution in the fight against the virus. The latest report of the Authority for Information Technology Application (AITA) shows that as of 24 May, there were 33.06 million Bluezone downloads, which meant an increase of 2.5 million Bluezone installations compared with 28 April, when the fourth wave broke out.
Of the 33 million Bluezone users, more than 20.58 million people have entered their mobile phone numbers on the app. As such, the number of people providing their phone numbers to state agencies had increased by 1 million. Hanoi and HCM City are leading the country in the number of Bluezone downloads, with 3.1 million and 2.83 million, respectively.
Researchers at the University of South Australia have designed a digital tool to help the police, defence industry – and now child protection services – translate complex data into a visual story, saving hundreds of hours of time.
The narrative visualisation tool, developed by Dr Andrew Cunningham, Dr James Walsh, and Prof Bruce Thomas, has already allowed the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to create snapshots of crime by distilling mountains of case notes and briefs into image-based stories. The software helps prosecutors, lawyers and juries get up to speed in the courtroom so they can more easily understand complex facts, saving hours of admin and time.
Dr Walsh, a postdoctoral researcher at UniSA STEM, says the software identifies key events of a criminal case, selecting the most relevant data from case notes and presenting it in an easy-to-grasp snapshot, whilst still being able to dig into the details.
Another domain that has expressed interest is child protection. For each child coming into foster and emergency care, government departments are having to plough through years of their history. The tool can help to build a narrative of each child by identifying key dates, events, and an overall summary of their life.
The narrative combines text with images, video, scans, and voiceovers to present a snapshot that filters out the most critical information. It was noted that the tool is a marriage of computer science, statistics, graphs, artificial intelligence, artistic design and storytelling. For digital systems, the team is collecting more data, whether that’s from notes, automated sensors, spreadsheets, video, audio and even x-rays. The researchers have worked on the tool to integrate with data from different domains.
A new project with BAE Systems is also examining other narrative visualisation concepts to map the life cycles of defence machinery, tracking the operational and service histories of warships, combat vehicles and aircraft. The tool is useful wherever there is huge complexity – in logistics, transport, healthcare, and finance, for example – and need to summarise the most important elements.
“The beauty of it is that we can create specific models for each domain. For criminal cases, we can focus on pulling out information that relates to charges. For loan applications, we can identify a person’s financial history. Basically, we can rank the material to prioritise the information we care about and then present it in a visual form,” Dr Walsh says.
Dynamic graphics and interactive news stories have been part of the online media landscape for several years now, as a response to waning attention spans, the slow death of print, and a global embrace of digital media.
This trend is now spreading beyond the confines of newsrooms and becoming part of the fabric of many industries, the researchers say. The tool has been acquired by a Melbourne-based software company for commercialisation.
According to recent market research, the global data visualisation tools market is projected to grow from US$5.9 billion in 2021 to US$10.2 billion by 2026, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 11.6% during the forecast period.
Various factors such as the growing demand for an interactive view of data for faster business decisions and increasing developments in Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to enable the interaction of companies with data in 3D formats are expected to drive the demand for data visualisation tools.
The data visualisation tools market has witnessed several advancements in terms of tools offered by the industry players. Verticals such as manufacturing, retail, and energy and utilities have witnessed a moderate slowdown, whereas BFSI, government, and healthcare and life sciences verticals have witnessed a minimal impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to the increased use of line charts, bar charts, and choropleth maps in the news. Simple data visualisations have become the key to communicating vital information about the coronavirus pandemic to the public.
While these terms might not be familiar to all, the visualisations themselves certainly are. One of the most interesting developments due to the current COVID-19 crisis is that organisations that excel at the developments of dashboards centralise analytics and decision-making approaches and scale them exponentially across all connected channels.
A new smartphone app called NKT aims to make the lives of disabled people in Vietnam easier by giving them better access to support. The app gives people with disabilities, particularly survivors from accidents with explosive ordnance, the chance to provide and access data about their disabilities. They can obtain a disability certificate to receive government assistance and communicate other needs to authorities. The application is currently being upgraded with additional support functions to assist people during registration.
The digital platform for registry and information management for persons with disabilities (PwD) was launched on 15 June in Hanoi as part of the Korea-Vietnam Mine Action Project (KV-MAP). The project partners are the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Vietnam National Mine Action Centre (VNMAC). It is also supported by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA). An estimated six million people in Vietnam, accounting for 7% of the population, live with a disability. The digital platform aims to make their lives easier and support the provision of needs-based assistance.
According to a news report, the information registered in the database will be kept confidential. An official said that the application is user-friendly and easy to navigate. For social protection officers, the digital platform transforms the management of support for citizens with disabilities. It enables MOLISA and its provincial departments to develop the national database with timely and accurate information on persons with disabilities in support of evidence-based policymaking and targeted assistance.
The digital platform has been successfully tested in Quang Binh, Binh Dinh, Khanh Hoa, Thanh Hoa, Quang Ninh, Quang Nam. and Vinh Long provinces. As well as Hue and Da Nang cities; 90,000 persons with disabilities have already agreed to be registered. These include the 75,000 people who decided to register when the initial district-level pilot was scaled up to a provincial-level assessment covering both Quang Binh and Binh Dinh, thanks to the Korea-Vietnam Mine Action Project.
The report claimed that this experience helped make the online platform ready for use throughout Vietnam, and this has become easier with the launch of the app for smartphones using either iOS or Android operating systems. “We will promote these applications widely, while at the same time continue developing the skills of social workers enabling them to meet the needs of those they serve,” said Nguyen Van Hoi, Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
The platform is entirely web-based, and the data is centrally stored and managed. 70% of the Vietnamese population own a smartphone and that is why the app was developed for electronic devices. It aims to enhance access to government services for the public.
At the launch of the digital platform, UNDP Resident Representative Caitlin Wiesen emphasised the importance of promoting innovative solutions to solve issues for persons with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable populations in society and have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. An official said the app is an initiative contributing to the greater goal of making society more inclusive.
Across the world, countries are increasingly using cutting edge tech to aid in solving and managing crime. More recently, law enforcement agencies are adopting artificial intelligence to assist their officers in a number of their tasks. Artificial intelligence in policing is a framework that is evaluated with the help of computers. It can also be used to make final decisions on rulings. It is the technology that holds great promise for the future in crime detection.
Artificial intelligence in policing is expected to bring about changes in security and assurance to a society. In fact, AI is rapidly becoming an indispensable part of law enforcement as it supports them in a plethora of ways.
One such solution is ‘facial recognition,’ which is being widely implemented in a variety of sectors other than the law to maintain security. This type of AI technology is used for surveillance, to monitor the crowd for anomalies or patterns, evaluate video footage for crime and apply facial recognition to optimum effect. More importantly, the technology has the potential to not only prevent and solve crimes but also to preempt them.
In New Zealand, a facial recognition provider had developed a high-tech surveillance tool that is currently being used by the nation’s police. According to New Zealand’s police national manager of criminal investigations, the device will only be utilised if there is a serious crime that requires the device’s assistance. Additionally, its initial use will be limited to 150 searches of police volunteers and approximately 30 searches of persons of interest.
The device is also being utilised in identifying law-abiding people at a protest, providing New Zealand Police with their names, location and a list of contacts. It is commonly used as an after-the-fact investigation, which means only to be used after someone has committed a crime.
More than 600 law enforcement agencies globally, including the FBI, have adopted this high-tech facial recognition device. The device works by scraping publicly available images of people from the internet and storing them in a database. This allows law enforcement to easily match an image and determine who it belongs to, and provide links to where those photos appeared on the internet. It now contains over 3 billion images scraped from websites. As more faces are scanned, the accuracy of the platform increases.
For most countries, facial recognition technology has received a lot of positive attention. Biometric verification technology, which was once confined to dystopian science fiction, is now being used as a trusted, ‘contactless’ payment system or as a means of quick and convenient ID checks in places such as busy airports.
When the coronavirus pandemic broke out in China, authorities upgraded cameras in the country with more sophisticated facial identification tech to be able to capture facial features even when they are obstructed with protective gear such as face masks. Such advanced application of the technology might help with contact-tracing of the virus in a country that was facing high infection rates.
While the pros are obvious, there were several concerns on how the device would or could be used. Other countries have not yet given such high-tech devices the go-ahead to provide live monitoring of public spaces as there is a strong potential and capacity for the technology to be misused.
NOnetheless, Artificial intelligence is slowly but progressively becoming a proficient tool in catching offenders and attempting to prevent unlawful actions. It is no longer just a speculative notion, as now more and more law enforcement agencies around the world start using cutting-edge technology to assist in solving, managing and preventing crime.