SEATTLE, Washington — In Colombia, 27% of the population lives in poverty, and more than seven million Colombians are internally displaced people. One of the reasons Colombians fled their homes is the country’s long-running civil war and guerilla attacks. Poverty and the refugee status of many Colombians are not the only problems the country faces today. In 2017, Colombia reported 1,400 cases of Zika, and in 2019, 84,664 cases of dengue fever. Premise, a company specializing in data analytics, partnered with the Colombian government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to fight the deadly Zika outbreaks and mosquito breeding sites with an analytical data app.
The Mosquito Problem
In 2019, at least 720 people out of the two million South Americans who contracted dengue died. Both Zika and dengue are mosquito-borne diseases that spread primarily through Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are also the primary transmitters of yellow fever and chikungunya. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes spread the virus by biting into already-infected people and then biting others.
In 2015 and 2016, Colombia had the second-largest Zika outbreak in the world. The city of Cali, with a population of more than two million people, was home to 23% of Colombia’s Zika cases. Colombians that live in populated slum areas are more vulnerable to mosquito-borne diseases as the areas lack proper sewage and garbage disposal systems, sanitation and running water. Mosquito breeding grounds find these areas attractive, especially during heavy rainfall when flooding creates stagnant water and puddles close to people’s homes.
In 2017, Premise, a predictive data analytics company based in San Francisco, conducted its first phase of internal vector monitoring of Cali. The company records georeferences and photographs mosquito breedings sites with a data analytics app to increase awareness across Colombian cities and give communities a way to fight mosquito-borne diseases. The first phase digitally recorded 40,000 sewers and inputted them into the system. USAID’s Grand Challenge funded Premise’s second phase, which began in 2018.
At the beginning of Premise’s work in Colombia, Glenis Barragan and 7,000 other people engaged in Premise’s citizen network project. The community actively collaborated in monitoring and destroying the mosquito breeding sites. Soon after Premise took off and 108,000 homes received inspections, and more than 70,000 mosquito breeding sites crumbled, often by app users. The average number of breeding sites found in people’s homes also decreased from three to less than two in only one year. Premise’s tracking system now works in three locations in Colombia: Cali, Santa Marta and Cucuta.
Premise’s data science approach allowed organized practices, such as vector control (spraying to disinfect areas and larviciding to decrease the population of male mosquitoes) and vector surveillance (building mosquito traps and keeping mosquito densities under close watch). Premise recorded 54,000 direct sewage openings that had a high likelihood of mosquitoes, and data outlined locations of all mosquito breeding sites, down to the street intersections.
The organization not only allowed data analytics to track down most mosquito hotspots and the origins of the disease transmission, but it also gave civilians access to its records. Colombian healthcare officials also used the data analytics app to deploy pest control methods such as fumigation, disinfection and larvicide in mosquito breedings sites.
Another reason why Premise’s project became successful was the participation of the local communities in its Citizen Network Pilot. Citizens also directly contributed to the monitoring of the outbreak surveillance and expanded the frequency charts and other collected data. In 2018, 2,911 citizens in Cali were actively engaged in Premise’s project. Thousands of people continue to complete Premise’s tasks each month for small money prizes that Premise sends via Bitcoin or by bank deposit. Some tasks consist of walking mapped routes and taking pictures of mosquito breeding sites with Premise’s app, and sometimes even destroying said sites. This citizen data collection model allows Premise to spot high-impact areas by mapping faster and more efficiently.
With the USAID and local Colombian citizen networks’ support, Premise can monitor and control the spread of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes through their app. The innovative data analytics app decreases dangerous and deadly epidemics across Colombia, and soon, Premise is considering expanding its mission all across South America. Premise gave people a tool to combat mosquito-borne diseases and reduce mosquito breeding sites with its data analytics app.
– Anna Sharudenko