The movie Contagion, from Warner Bros. and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is an action-thriller centered on the threat posed by a deadly disease and an international team of doctors contracted by the CDC to deal with the outbreak. It tells the story of the rapidly spreading pandemic with high mortality following the perspective of different players throughout their work investigating, communicating about, and mitigating the pandemic – as well as normal citizens suffering the consequences and coping with the lack of information about what’s unfolding around them.

The movie has an excellent plot and script that reflects a good amount of research and ongoing advice (See Wired interview of Ian Lipkin). The movie skips the digital technology aspects (beyond vaccine development and social media) so we thought we could explain “how it’s done in the real world” (or at least, how it’s being increasingly done), based on real-world projects we have worked on in the last couple of years.


(If you find the presentation below hard to read because of the scaling, make it full-screen or

Stopping Contagion At the Source

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Everyday work mitigates global threats

InSTEDD’s work in public health includes routine disease surveillance, maternal child health, and many activities outside what people imagine when they think about global pandemics. This is because detecting and containing outbreaks is best done at the source – in rural villages, or in overcrowded slums. With improved tools for routine disease detection and outbreak response used, for example, in South East Asia, ministries of health have detected and initiated response actions (quarantine, distribution of medications, etc) sooner. That means the surrounding districts, provinces, and rest of the world never gets affected by it – it is less spectacular, but the suffering can be drastically reduced.


Technology can be used for more than just reporting data

Reporting data is what most people and organizations think about. But in the case of a pandemic so virulent as the one depicted in the movie, the earliest detection can already be too late. InSTEDD thinks outside the box when it comes to digital tools for health. We see the population could be getting improved information about how to avoid getting sick, responders could share real-time information about resources available, diagnostic data, and international collaboration could be simplified even on a complex backdrop of politics and economics. And we know that to get technologies widely adopted, they need to be designed with the user in mind, be scalable, and share information with the systems and tools they are familiar with.

Get engaged!

Maybe the movie inspired you to imagine a new way of using communication tools, mobiles, the internet, or social media to help alleviate and mitigate such events. Maybe you are enjoying an increased awareness of the effort of thousands of people around you that work day and night in public health, and want to contribute to their endeavor. Or maybe you already work in public health and want to be able to use modern tools that already exist, or want us to help you create something new or unique for you.


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InSTEDD is a small non-profit (501.c.3 organization) and with your support we train developers in areas of need, invent tools, evaluate the impact of using digital tech for social causes, and bootstrap organizations into doing their work better through technology.


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