Survserv: Rails based Real Time Outbreak Detection System

by Satish Talim on September 10, 2007

Arindam Basu

RubyLearning caught up with Arindam Basu and requested him to brief us about Survserv, a Rails based real time outbreak detection system (still in Beta).

Hello Arindam, and welcome to Tell us something about your background.

I am a physician-epidemiologist-health services researcher, and I direct an International Research Training Program in environmental and occupational health related research training program in Kolkata, India, under the aegis of the University of California at Berkeley. I got interested in Ruby and Ruby on Rails about a year back while researching on disease surveillance and data analysis, and my background as an epidemiologist biostatistician helped me to use Ruby productively for my data analytical work. I also work as a consultant in data analysis, and in health-care informatics.

What is the goal of Survserv?

Briefly, the goal of Survserv is to develop a web-based framework where anyone with a hand-held device (like a cellphone that can access the WWW, or a device like the simputer, etc) that can access a website or can SMS, can enter some basic information about specific symptoms and complaints to a web-database. The database will connect to a statistical program (I have used R for statistical computing), then use Naive Bayesian Classification (a related concept to how your email program filters spams in your mailboxes) and classify the symptoms to a number of disease clusters.

These disease clusters however, will be automatically mined for their spatial and temporal relationships (in other words, the database will also record the IP address or from where the request has come in addition to time stamp). Over time, a graph of the number of symptoms and signs will be built up, and the waves will be compared with regular patterns to see if an epidemic is emerging. If the system detects an emergent epidemic, it will send emails to respective authorities, and raise alerts about possible outbreaks.

Where do you think this application can be used?

This program will be useful in far and remote places where people can just get connected to the net and cellphones are present, but nothing much more than that is available, so that outbreak detections are typically delayed. This time lag will be cut short with this web based framework, if deployed. At present, the disease surveillance system is slow and takes about a weeks’ time for the data to be compiled and presented from a health center to the district level and then they get dumped to a major city or the state health intelligence bureau. In addition, these data are rarely mined (let alone real time) for predicting epidemics. This system will create a parallel data abstraction system where epidemics will be alerted real time system wide, and enable development of an epidemic prediction engine. The concept is neither novel nor unique but one that is practical and can be easily deployed and will likely to significantly improve on current lag times for disease outbreaks.

What’s the current status of the application?

I have not received any sponsorship or funding for the program. It’s still funded from my own funds, and being worked on my own time as and when I can. About 40% of the work has been done though, eg, setting up the database (I am using MySQL), the front end forms, the link between R, and routing of the graphs. The program should be usable to anyone who can access web.

Finally, anything else you would like to tell our readers?

This work has been selected at the Open Source Developers’ Conference in Brisbane, Australia (26-29 November, 2007). If anyone’s interested to learn more about the work, I’d be happy to explain.

Thanks Arindam. We wish you and Survserv all the very best. You can contact Arindam at arinbasu99 [at]

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Posted by Satish Talim

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jatinder September 10, 2007 at 1:41 pm

This is truly amazing, Ruby and RoR being used in so many verticals.

Satish, the link “Arindam Basu” points to Ola Bini’s blog.


satish September 10, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Jatinder, thanks for pointing out the typo – since corrected. Arindam’s application would really prove to be useful in many third world countries – VCs are you listening?


jericho September 11, 2007 at 4:43 am

This is a very good project. Present it to the Open Source Health Care Organization (OSHCA), they might help you in some ways…


Caroline September 13, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Hey there,

This is Caroline from SocialRank.

I am trying to get in touch with you but couldn’t find your email address.

We’re launching a new Web 2.0 site dedicated to Ruby On Rails and we have started indexing your blog posts as part of our

content filter.

I’d like to send you an invite to a beta preview. Can you get back to me with your email address.

Mine is

Kind regards,



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