Google Plays Part in Stopping Zika

There’s a new virus on the loose, and it has nothing to do with hacking.

Last week, Google announced its contribution of US $1 million to the UN Children’s Fund in an effort to support the global fight against the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Additionally, a team of Google engineers has volunteered to lend their talents to UNICEF; they’ve signed up to analyze data and better understand the viral infection’s path.

zika2Google has also promised to match all employee donations with the intention of donating an additional $500,000 to UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization.

According to Google, the recent Zika virus outbreaks caused a 3,000% increase in worldwide internet search inquiries since last November. By February, the World Health Organization saw fit to declare a public health emergency regarding the virus.

Although the virus continues to be only partially understood, there are a number of alarming correlations with the virus and other major diseases. Microcephaly and a number of other birth defects have made the list, causing public health officials to recommend that women in areas near Zika outbreaks avoid becoming pregnant.

The spread of the virus is further obfuscated by the fact that four out of five people who contract the virus show no symptom. That and the widespread population of the virus’s primary transmitter, the Aedes mosquito, have caused the eradication of the disease to prove challenging.

That’s why Google saw fit to help; UNICEF is now working with the additional assistance of Google engineers and data scientists to create an open source information platform that will enable UNICEF and its partners to better target and isolate Zika response efforts.

“This open source platform will be able to process information like mobility patterns and weather data to build risk maps. We plan to prototype this tool in the Zika response but expand it for use globally,” stated Chris Fabian. colead of UNICEF’s innovation unit.

The open source data platform will be developed by Google software engineers John Li and Zora Tung as well as UNICEF research scientist Manual Garcia Herranz and UX designer Tanya Bhandari. The platform will be built to process data from different sources like weather and travel patterns and to visualize potential outbreaks.

At the end of the day, the platform’s main objective will be to identify the risk of Zika transmission for different regions and help UNICEF, governments and nongovernmental organizations to find the best possible way to focus their time and resources.

zika3“Financial contributions and donations are always beneficial, but it has hard to say whether or not tracking the virus itself will have significant contributions,” stated Sarah Lisovich, content strategist at CIA Medical.

“The symptoms are similar tot hose of other common healthcare conditions,” she continued. “Google is a leader in terms of research tools and putting forth tools to help understand the outbreak and bring more awareness and comprehension,” she concluded.

This isn’t the first time that big data analytics ave been used for the purposes of tracking and stopping an outbreak; analytics have been used to track malaria, dengue fever, and the West Nile virus for years. They enable researches to quickly turn of knowledge from billions of data points and supply the best input for predicting where the disease will show up next.

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