Documentary highlights work of Filipina scientists over pandemic

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter 

A DOCUMENTARY that highlights the work of Filipina data scientists over the pandemic shows how clear and accurate information can help solve public health crises. 

“The challenge was to build a team that will encompass the data pipeline, from the data source to analysis to visualization,” said Ma. Regina Justina E. Estuar, an information systems and computer science professor at Ateneo De Manila University and the team leader of FASSSTER (Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler), a disease surveillance and modeling platform.   

One of the subjects of Pintig: Women, Data, and the Pandemic, the FASSSTER team — initially formed to address dengue, measles, and typhoid — was mobilized by the Department of Health (DoH) during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. 

“With very little data and calibration, we were uncertain with what we had produced initially,” said Ms. Estuar at the documentary’s Oct. 28 launch. “One thing that was helpful was that there was good scientific discussion among groups of data scientists. The questions were hard but it challenged us to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”  

Reinabelle C. Reyes, senior data scientist at Pintig Lab under the United Nations Development Program, added that data science and analytics should be applied to solve developmental problems.   

“If your fundamentals are there and your heart is in the right place and you are open to collaborating with the right people, together you can come up with something bigger and better,” she said.  

Pintig Lab monitors and tracks the COVID-19 pandemic and provides data-driven support to DoH and other agencies in their response and recovery efforts.  

AI4GOV, a social technology organization led by co-founder Lei Motilla, collaborated with data science groups to create an algorithm for triaging.  

“We scoured the internet for algorithms. We created one and then presented it to DoH and then soon after there was a memorandum. It all happened so fast,” Ms. Motilla said. “There were so many stakeholders and we felt maybe we’re too small for this.”  

After reflecting on the organization’s goal to improve public services, AI4GOV went full steam ahead to do their part in fighting the pandemic.  

Maria Rosario S. Vergeire, officer-in-charge at the DoH, said that the women in the Pintig documentary are just one part of the large population of women who helped the country through the health crisis. 

“In this time full of doubt, we had to show people that in these kinds of situations, women can make concrete actions and directions along with feeling the compassion and emotions that we have,” she said.