Larry Brilliant helps detect pandemics

The wish


The winner

Larry Brilliant

The year


I wish that you would help build a global system to detect each new disease or disaster as quickly as it emerges or occurs.

The plan

Early detection, early response. This is the only way to deal with contagious diseases, says epidemiologist and tech visionary Larry Brilliant. He helped eradicate polio, and directed the World Health Organization’s efforts to eliminate killer smallpox in India, presiding over the very last case of the disease in the world. Now, he shares a powerful vision: an early detection system, InSTEDD, that would crawl the web, global news and social media to detect signs of developing threats. The goal: to save lives by acting faster.

Current status

Larry Brilliant envisioned InSTEDD as a single, top-down system — but since its launch, InSTEDD has developed into a network, with more than 100 digital disease detection partners. Their approaches are diverse, ranging from systems that monitor parkings lots at ERs to hackathons for creating new epidemiological tools. InSTEDD partners work together provide information that help the UN, WHO and CDC track potential pandemics.

Other ripple effects: the creation of Google Flu Trends; the 2008 opening of an InSTEDD iLab in Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the release of the 2011 Steven Soderbergh movie, Contagion; the implementation Flu Near You; support of HealthMap; the 2011 opening of an InSTEDD iLab in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the launch of the CORDS network for regional disease surveillance; and a gathering of Silicon Valley companies at the White House to discuss fighting ebola.

Early detection has come a long way, quickly. In 1996, a potential pandemic could stay hidden for 167 days. In 2009, that number was down to 23 days. Research is underway to determine where we’re at today.

Get involved

  1. Join Flu Near You, the world's largest participatory health surveillance network, and generate data to fight the flu
  2. Support InSTEDD by making a donation
  3. Support HealthMap by making a donation

About Larry

Larry Brilliant has spent his career solving the ills of today — from overseeing the last smallpox cases to saving millions from blindness — and building technologies of the future. Now, as Chair of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, he's redefining how we solve the world's biggest problems.
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