Big Data for Public Health

The National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCCID) brings collaborators together to explore what can be learned from big data to inform public health decision-making for the control of infectious diseases.

Concerns and questions about the ethics of big data for public health purposes are prudent but can also limit knowledge sharing about how these data are or could be useful. NCCID re-frames dialogue on big data with a different question–not ‘What are the risks?’, but ‘What can be learned from big data’?

Public health jurisdictions differ for their interest and capacity to work with big data. Some public health leaders are skeptical or poorly resourced and informed to make use of these data. Others have already taken opportunities to work with certain big data sets, often in partnership with the private sector and modelling researchers.

The Covid-19 pandemic fueled demands for real-time and geo-positioning data to understand emerging risks. Public health authorities looked for ways to understand the influence of travel and mobility factors, as well as the effectiveness of public health measures aimed at limiting mobility, social contact and disease spread. Although the SARS CoV-2 virus is one important area to explore, big data may provide useful insights on other pathogens, drivers and determinants.

NCCID leads several knowledge translation activities on big data for public health, including

  • infographics to clarify basic concepts,
  • big data research demonstration projects,
  • discussions about ethics, methods, and applicability of big data research findings, and
  • case studies featuring lessons from public health authorities that use big data

Stay tuned!

If you have any questions, comments, or wish to share your knowledge on big data, please reach out to Harpa Isfeld-Kiely, at