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Annabelle Theobald

CISPA supports public health departments in implementing contact tracing software SORMAS

To detect and interrupt chains of infection at an early stage during the Corona pandemic, effective contact tracing management is required. To this end, German health authorities are to uniformly use SORMAS, a digital system for epidemic control. Due to the great demand, CISPA and other Helmholtz centers are strengthening their SORMAS team's support and training offer for the employees at the authorities.

The digital tool SORMAS (Surveillance Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System) is to be used nationwide in Germany and will facilitate contact tracing for the health authorities in the Corona pandemic. 283 of the 375 health authorities in Germany are already equipped with the software. In order to quickly make the employees fit for use, the research centers of the Helmholtz Association support the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), which was involved in the development of SORMAS, as well as the Akademie des Öffentlichen Gesundheitswesens (Academy of Public Health) with the employees' training.

At CISPA, the experts for professional development and training of the CISPA Cysec Lab from Andrea Ruffing's Science Outreach team perform this task. Thomas Mechenbier, temporarily supported by a colleague, has been offering digital workshops on cybersecurity as well as regular online training courses for users and multipliers at the German health authorities since December, by now several per week. "I think it's good that we can contribute even more to pandemic control in this way," says Mechenbier. The feedback from training participants has been very positive, he adds.

According to numerous media reports, there has been a lot of skepticism about the introduction of SORMAS at the authorities so far. Moreover, the nationwide rollout of the software did not proceed as quickly as originally planned. Thomas Mechenbier, however, has experienced in his workshops that many employees of the health offices are pleased with the workload reduction that SORMAS promises. "Above all, the sometimes rapid introduction of new features that the health authorities would like to see is also embraced," says Mechenbier.

The software for managing and analyzing infection outbreaks was developed in 2014 by the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI), the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), and other partners. The background was an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In 2016, SORMAS was then migrated into an open-source application. 

In Ghana and Nigeria, the software has already been used for epidemic control for years. For public health authorities, with SORMAS-ÖGD (ÖGD stands for Public Health Service), a module was developed during the Corona pandemic to guarantee even simpler and more efficient work processes in the management of cases and contacts. There are COVID-19 specific process models for case reporting, infection history, and diagnostics as well as interfaces to other software applications. For example, data from symptom diary apps can be used by the authorities.

Only the users of the respective public health authority have access to the SORMAS public health server of their department via encrypted connections. Neither the HZI nor other authorities can view the data.

The text was translated by: Oliver Schedler