SEATTLE — In early March, Google’s charitable branch donated $1 million to help stop the spread of the Zika virus and assigned developers to help determine where it may spread to next.
The virus has spread rapidly throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in recent months, sparking international concern. The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency on Feb. 1, 2016, due to Zika’s suspected link to a range of health concerns, included birth defects in babies born to mothers who are infected with the virus, and the development of neurological disorders in adults.
“Our $1 million grant will be used by UNICEF to raise widespread awareness, reduce mosquito populations, support the development of diagnostics and vaccines, and work with communities and governments to prevent Zika transmission. The organization expects to reach 200 million affected or vulnerable people in Brazil and throughout Latin America with these efforts,” Jacquelline Fuller, the managing director of the Google’s charitable arm, said in a post on the Official Google Blog.
Zika, a predominately mosquito-borne disease, arrived in Brazil last spring. Since then, more than 26 countries and territories in the Americas have reported cases of the virus, and as many as four million people could be affected by the end of the year, according to the Wold Health Organization.
A volunteer team of Google engineers, designers, and data scientists will develop an open source platform that will be able to collect data, including weather and travel information, with the aim of predicting how Zika may spread within the region. The company stated that it was an excellent candidate to determine how to map and anticipate the virus, since it has significant experience analyzing large sets of data.
Google has also updated its search engine to display detailed information about Zika for people visiting countries with confirmed cases of the virus. Additionally, it is planning to create informational videos about the virus in collaboration with popular YouTube channels in Latin America.
On Feb. 16, the WHO said that $56 million would be required to fund a strategy to combat the virus until June, making the donation a much needed source of revenue. The company has also launched a matching campaign for employee donations which may deliver an additional $500,000 to UNICEF to help fight the disease.
Poor communities face the most risk, as the virus is easily transmitted in crowded areas where access to sheltered, air conditioned spaces is limited. A lack of running water and waste management, combined with poor housing in urban areas, also contributes to the continued spread of the virus.
The company has seen a more than 3,000 percent increase in global search interest in the Zika virus since November, highlighting the public’s concern with the spread of the disease.
“Fighting Zika requires raising awareness on how people can protect themselves as well as supporting organizations who can help drive the development of rapid diagnostics and vaccines. We also have to find better ways to visualize the threat so public health officials and NGO’s can support communities at risk,” Fuller said.
Sources: BBC, CDC 1, CDC 2, CNN 1, CNN 2, NBC News, Official Google Blog, Reuters, The Economist 1, The Economist 2, The New York Times, UN Foundation, Wired, World Health Organization