Working FASSSTER than COVID-19: Get to know the people behind the technology

When the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) hit the Philippines early this year, the Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research (ACCCRe) of Ateneo de Manila University in collaboration with the University of the Philippines Manila - National Telehealth Center (UP-NTHC), the Department of Health-Epidemiology Bureau and the Department of Science and Technology - Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) recalibrated the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-temporal Epidemiological Modeler or FASSSTER to enable forecasting of estimate number of COVID-19 cases in specific areas for specific period of time, in line with the area’s health capacity. With the recalibration, FASSSTER was able to provide an evidence-based tool to the DoH, local government units (LGUs) and other healthcare facilities to mitigate potential risks brought by COVID-19 and maximize the allocation of healthcare resources.

DOST-PCHRD Executive Director Dr. Jaime C. Montoya assures the reliability of the predictions from this tool. He said, “FASSSTER was never made overnight. Developed since 2016, this tool is a product of rigorous studies and composed of credible and updated data.. Long before COVID19, this tool was already used in the surveillance of Dengue, Measles, and Typhoid.”

Initially used for Dengue, Typhoid Fever and Measles, FASSSTER is utilized for visualizing disease models and generating syndromic surveillance reports during public health crises. From 2016 to 2019, the application was deployed for use in 17 Rural Health Units (RHUs) across the country. Specifically, FASSSTER connects syndromic surveillance and event surveillance from the field to an electronic medical record, uses health information to improve on initial disease models and provides a visualization tool for decision making.

The implementation of FASSSTER and its recalibration for COVID-19 is made possible through the efforts of several teams in ADMU, namely: the Data Science and Computational Modelling Team, Mathematical Modelling Team, Data Management Team, Data Warehouse Team, Systems Development Team, and the Public Health Team. Each team is led by notable professors and scientists:

  1. Dr. Maria Regina E. Estuar is the team leader of FASSSTER and the Data Science and Computational Modelling Team. She is a professor at the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science at ADMU. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research (ACCCRE) and is the founder of the Ateneo Social Computing Science Laboratory. In 2019, she bagged the Outstanding Women in the Nation's Service Award for Science and Technology from TOWNS Foundation Inc. for her significant contributions in strengthening the country’s S&T capacity.
  2. Dr. Elvira de Lara-Tuprio is an expert in disease modeling through differential equations and financial mathematics, with focus on financial derivatives and risk management. She is in charge of FASSSTER’s Mathematical Modelling Team. Currently, she works as an Associate Professor for the Mathematics Department of ADMU.
  3. Dr. Marlene M. De Leon is the team leader of the Data Management Team of FASSSTER. She is an Associate Professor in the  Department of Information Systems and Computer Science of ADMU and manages Quality Assurance of Data and Information at the University.
  4. Dr. Raymond Francis R. Sarmiento leads the Data Warehouse Team of FASSSTER. Currently, he works as the Director of the National Telehealth Center of the UP National Institutes of Health (UPNIH). He is also a Balik Scientist of the DOST who specializes in clinical and public health informatics and health data science, among others. In 2019, Dr. Sarmiento was recognized as an Outstanding Young Scientist in public health informatics by the National Academy of Science and Technology.
  5. Mr. Christian Pulmano leads the Systems Development Team of FASSSTER. He works full-time as part of the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science of ADMU. He is also the head of the Ateneo Block Chain Laboratory (formerly AMBERLab) which received the Recognition of Excellence Award by OpenGov Asia in 2019. He is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of BluEHR, a spin-off product from ACCCRe
  6. Dr. Norbie Mendoza leads the Epidemiology and Public Health Team of FASSSTER. He specializes in the field of health and medical informatics.

The development of FASSSTER is part of the DOST-PCHRD’s projects under the Information and Communications Technology in Health priority area which aims to advance the country’s telehealth services and systems and public health surveillance, among others. Committed to making lives better for the Filipino, the DOST-PCHRD supports the development of health and health-related research projects outlined by the DOST’s Harmonized National Research and Development Agenda (HNRDA) and the National Unified Health Research and Development Agenda (NUHRA).