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Actuarial modelling of big data could play a major role in tackling the next pandemic

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries’ (IFoA) Longevity Bulletin on Pandemics, released today (5 August), highlights how modelling big data and social media use can be used to identify and address potential pandemics such as Ebola in the future.  This latest edition of the IFoA’s annual bulletin assesses the impact of pandemics by four experts in the actuarial, epidemiology, policy and technology fields.

Fiona Morrison, President of the IFoA, comments,

“We are all aware that the impacts of a pandemic such as Ebola could be very serious for society. Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank, stated recently that a new pandemic could potentially kill tens of millions of people and reduce the GDP of the global economy by 5 to 10 per cent.  These figures show that reducing the risk of pandemics is crucial.

“The case studies in the report show that potential pandemics have been identified and constrained more quickly in recent years than in the past, which is very positive news.  It is still vital, though, for society to prepare itself properly for possible future catastrophes.
“The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries regularly conducts research into longevity trends, giving actuarial perspectives on the ageing population and the latest thinking on related subjects.  We hope this Longevity Bulletin will go some way to help those working in relevant fields to understand all the factors relating to pandemics, in order to mitigate risk and minimise any future outbreak.”

Joseph Lu, chair of IFoA’s Mortality Research Steering Committee comments,

“Pandemic risk modelling plays an important role in financial and risk management for the insurance sector.  Through mathematical modelling based on the latest scientific research, the actuarial community can help others understand the potential danger to human lives, disruption to businesses and financial costs due to pandemics.

“Recent advances in computing and analytics can help us fight pandemics.  Effective analyses of social media and geographical data could produce more ‘real time’ information.  This could help health officials contain the spread of infection before it causes more harm.  Scientists could analyse genomic databases to understand the infectious agent responsible for the pandemic, aiming to develop appropriate vaccine or treatment.”

Dr Gordon Woo, chief architect of the first pandemic risk model for the life insurance industry, states in the report that
“A benchmark for a pandemic of insurance catastrophe proportions is the 1918 pandemic. The high case fatality rate of 2.5% is much higher than that of the other pandemics of the 20th century in 1957 and 1968, which were of the order of 0.1%. Far more people died of the influenza pandemic than in World War I itself. In Europe, the excess mortality rate was about 1.1% of the population of 250 million.

“The spectre of the European annual mortality rate doubling due to a very severe pandemic is an extremely challenging risk management scenario for the health sector, civic authorities and corporations, including life insurers.”

Dr Christoph Thuemmler, one of the pioneers of electronic health (E-health) in Europe states in the report that the wide availability of social media, as well as the smart phone and other mobile devices, are playing an increasing role in all areas of health. He comments, “In several studies it could be demonstrated that it was possible to track flu pandemics by monitoring the social web using completely independent data to that commonly used for flu detection.”

Dr Thuemmler concludes that, “Cross matching the results of big data analysis of the social web and medical data could be of tremendous value in rapidly responding to future outbreaks of infectious diseases.”


For further comment, a copy of the report, or to answer any questions that you may have please contact Annette Heninger, Media Relations Manager at the IFoA, on 07525 592 198 or by emailing

Editorial notes:

About the Longevity Bulletin

The IFoA’s annual Longevity Bulletin was first issued in 2011, and was created as an overview of longevity trends.  The aim of this, the 6th issue, is to improve understanding of pandemic diseases so that as a society we can be better prepared to mitigate risk and recover from such catastrophes.

About the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) is a royal chartered, not-for-profit, professional body.

Research undertaken by the IFoA is not commercial.  As a learned society, research helps us to fulfil our royal charter requirements to further actuarial science and serve the public interest.
Actuaries provide commercial, financial and prudential advice on the management of a business’s assets and liabilities, especially where long term management and planning are critical to the success of any business venture. They also advise individuals, and advise on social and public interest issues.

Members of the IFoA have a statutory role in the supervision of pension funds and life insurance companies. They also have a statutory role to provide actuarial opinions for managing agents at Lloyd’s.

Members are governed by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries. A rigorous examination system is supported by a programme of continuing professional development and a professional code of conduct supports high standards reflecting the significant role of actuaries in society.

The IFoA is available to provide independent expert comment to the media on a range of actuarial- related issues, including enterprise risk management, finance and investment, general insurance, health and care, life assurance, mortality, and pensions.


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