Students of the Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) are using the current Covid-19 lockdown to build a comprehensive database.
Photo: File
Students of the Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) are using the current Covid-19 lockdown to build a comprehensive database. Photo: File

EDSA learners use SA lockdown to build Covid-19 database platform

By Dhivana Rajgopaul Time of article published Apr 7, 2020

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DURBAN - Students of the Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) are using the current Covid-19 lockdown to build a comprehensive database that has the capacity to store all pandemic related data in South Africa. 

"Our intention in building the database is to ensure that it is open source and can be maintained by the broader community. The aim is to centralise data coming from a host of available resources, all of which are useful in making beneficial analyses.  These resources include data from Github, repositories such as the one from the University of Pretoria, the NICD and global data sources, said EDSA co-founder Shaun Dippnall.

All data will be fed into a dashboard and the resulting statistics and Covid-19 information will be made available to all, including those who want to use the data for their own projects.

The database will comprise a large central repository of publicly available data and will be released in stages.  

Stage 1 of the database will contain: 

1. daily testing numbers

2. case numbers by country/province (confirmed, deaths, active and recovered)

3. government countermeasure data ( measure, date of implementation, duration of implementation) 

Further features are that it will be:

1. professionally structured, adhering to industry best practices, resulting in high data quality

2. automated and near real-time updating

3. delivered to the community through APIs (Application Programming Interface)

4. The first set of APIs (Stage 1) are aimed at being available online in the next week and a half 

Stage 2 will include:

1. patient-level data, (time to symptom onset/death, travel history, age, gender, etc )

2. hospital-level data ( ICU beds, critical care, patients on ventilators) 

3. flight data (for modelling the seed risk of the pandemic in each country base off flight volues/schedules) 

Dippnall stresses the development of the database was borne out of the regulatory lockdown.

He said, "We may not have the resources to get into the level of modelling that Governments or universities are achieving. However,  by having a solid foundation of data that others can work off, we can leverage the skills of students and the community and encourage others to add to our work". 

What makes this database different from others, is that it will allow its data scientists to manipulate the data using, for example, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

EDSA is involving its faculty, alumni and current learners to build this database, purely online because of the lockdown regulations.  Among participants are matriculants with just a few months’ work experience.

"Everybody involved in the project is enthralled by the prospect of building something that can make a tangible impact towards understanding the pandemic and helping South Africa fight its spread. We also believe, once complete, that  it will strengthen the country’s broader data science capability," concluded Dippnall. 

EDSA recently announced that it will be going international and will soon offer students across the world the opportunity to take its locally developed short online courses in selected data science fields.

The international online offering comprises a series of focused courses that will teach data science, data engineering, data analytics and machine learning.  Courses start late in January, 2020 and will run between three and 12 months. Costs range from R4000 for the Data Science for High School course to R30000 for the three month professional skills courses. 

The initial focus country for these short courses will be the UK, but EDSA are also targeting the United States and Australia. 


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