EuroMOMO. Help­ing un­der­stand the im­pact of a pan­demic.

At the on­set of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic in 2020, peo­ple around the world were search­ing for mean­ing­ful data in or­der to un­der­stand the sever­ity of the out­break. Given the vast un­der­count­ing of COVID-19 deaths in the of­fi­cial hos­pi­tal data, which did not ac­count for the rise in deaths at home, many of­fi­cials, sci­en­tists, and jour­nal­ists em­braced an­other proven sta­tis­tic in­stead: ex­cess mor­tal­ity rates. In a se­vere pan­demic, mor­tal­ity mon­i­tor­ing is a ro­bust way to mon­i­tor pro­gres­sion when other sys­tems are fail­ing, due to an over­bur­dened health care sec­tor.

With more than three mil­lion monthly vis­its to their web­site —a 2000% in­crease from pre­vi­ous peaks in traf­fic— it be­came clear that the decade-old eu­ro­momo.eu web­site needed an emer­gency re­design.

EuroMOMO is a Eu­ro­pean mor­tal­ity mon­i­tor­ing part­ner­ship that aims to de­tect and mea­sure ex­cess deaths re­lated to sea­sonal in­fluenza, pan­demics and other pub­lic health threats. The aim of the pro­ject is to pro­vide weekly, stan­dard­ized mor­tal­ity data from the 24 Eu­ro­pean coun­tries in the net­work. Eu­ro­MOMO is sup­ported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and is hosted by Statens Serum Institut in Den­mark.

By late Feb­ru­ary 2020, Eu­ro­MO­MO’s ex­cess mor­tal­ity data be­came highly sought af­ter. With more than three mil­lion monthly vis­its to their web­site —a 2000% in­crease from pre­vi­ous peaks in traf­fic— it be­came clear that the decade-old eu­ro­momo.eu web­site needed an emer­gency re­design. We were con­tacted by Statens Serum In­sti­tut and the Dan­ish Min­istry of Health to de­sign and de­velop the new euromomo.eu, and af­ter ten days of in­tense de­sign and de­vel­op­ment ef­forts, the new web­site was launched on April 22rd, 2020.

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The first step in the de­sign process was to cre­ate a new vi­sual iden­tity for the Eu­ro­MOMO pro­ject. With an aim to cre­ate a trusted and rec­og­niz­able iden­tity, we de­signed a sim­ple brand sys­tem in­clud­ing lo­go­type, color palette, and type­faces that can be used in print and on the web by the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Logotype, color palette and typefaces for EuroMOMO

The most im­por­tant part of the new web­site is the set of in­ter­ac­tive graphs that re­placed the low-res­o­lu­tion graph im­ages on the old web­site. These graphs make it pos­si­ble for users to ex­plore the dataset on their own, and the graphs are de­lib­er­ately de­signed to com­mu­ni­cate the core find­ings and un­cer­tain­ties per­tain­ing to the choice of statistical model (Pois­son re­gres­sion analy­sis with cor­rec­tion for overdis­per­sion). The web­site groups the graphs into four main ar­eas ex­plained be­low. All graphs are in­ter­ac­tive and can be fil­tered by age groups and time.

  • Pooled num­ber of deaths by age group presents the total number of deaths across all 24 countries as either the actual death count or as deviations from the baseline (z-score).
  • Ex­cess mor­tal­ity presents the deviation in mortality from the expected level as either a weekly death count or as cumulative values.
  • Map of z-scores by coun­try allows users to explore the deviations in mortality (z-score) for each country in the network for a single week on an interactive map.
  • Z-scores by coun­try presents a graph with deviations in mortality (z-score) over time for each country in the network.
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With a surge in traf­fic af­ter the ini­tial launch, these graphs pro­vides users with a tan­gi­ble way to in­ter­pret the cur­rent state of the COVID-19 pan­demic across the 24 coun­tries in Eu­rope. The web­site is con­tin­u­ously used by tens of thou­sands of peo­ple every day, in­clud­ing schol­ars, jour­nal­ists and cit­i­zens of the EU.

Along­side the re­lease of the new web­site, Eu­ro­MO­MO’s data was men­tioned in hun­dreds of news­pa­pers around the world, in­clud­ing lead­ing in­ter­na­tional pub­li­ca­tions such as The New York Times, The Economist, Wall Street Journal, World Economic Forum, Bloomberg, and Reuters. Fur­ther­more, the data was cited by WHO, ECDC, and UNICEF dur­ing the pan­demic.

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The Eu­ro­MOMO web­site launch is a tes­ta­ment to how a fast-tracked, prop­erly scoped re­design pro­ject can bring ben­e­fits to an or­ga­ni­za­tion that far out­weigh the in­vest­ment.

The tech­ni­cal ar­chi­tec­ture of the new eu­ro­momo.eu is pri­mar­ily shaped by the need for a fast and re­spon­sive web­site that does not in­cur mas­sive server costs dur­ing times of heavy traf­fic. The web­site is built with Gatsby.js and takes full ad­van­tage of the frame­work’s built-in code split­ting and prefetch­ing to en­sure a very fast time to first ren­der. The sta­tic web­site is de­ployed on AWS us­ing S3 as a file server and the Cloud­front con­tent dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work to en­sure fast de­liv­ery to users around the globe. To al­low the Eu­ro­MOMO team to eas­ily up­date the con­tent and data on the web­site, we built a cus­tom con­tent man­age­ment sys­tem that com­mits con­tent up­dates di­rectly to a GitHub repos­i­tory. Ad­mins can up­date any con­tent on the web­site, and all graph data can be pre­viewed be­fore sav­ing oc­curs. Since the un­parsed dataset holds sen­si­tive coun­try-re­lated data, we opted to cre­ate a data ex­trac­tion process that runs in the ad­min’s browser where we pull out only the pub­lic data needed for the web­site. Thus, sen­si­tive data never reaches the code repos­i­tory. The sys­tem fi­nally al­lows the team to pub­lish the web­site, and this de­ploy­ment process uses GitHub ac­tions and our static com­mand-line client to build and up­load the web­site to S3.

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The Eu­ro­MOMO web­site launch is a tes­ta­ment to how a fast-tracked, prop­erly scoped re­design pro­ject can bring ben­e­fits to an or­ga­ni­za­tion that far out­weigh the in­vest­ment.

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