A team of engineers from Google are volunteering with UNICEF to crunch data and map data related to the Zika virus.
The company has donated $1 million to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to assist in the fight against Zika. The virus has already caused nearly 5,000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil, and is spreading across Latin America.
Zika virus now officially a public health emergency
Microcephaly causes babies to be born with smaller heads than usual which exposes them to greater risk of problems as they develop, including physical disabilities. The Zika virus is spread primarily by a specific type of mosquito found across Latin America.
According to the World Health Organization, the virus outbreak is officially a public health emergency. Scientists have struggled to map the spread of the disease due to the fact that most sufferers do not show any symptoms.
To that end Google has donated $1 million and the expertise of a team of engineers in order to analyze data. The aim is to work out where the Zika virus may spread to next.
Google offers data expertise to help fight virus
“A volunteer team of Google engineers, designers, and data scientists is helping UNICEF build a platform to process data from different sources (i.e., weather and travel patterns) in order to visualize potential outbreaks,” reads a blog post from Google. “Ultimately, the goal of this open source platform is to identify the risk of Zika transmission for different regions and help UNICEF, governments and NGO’s decide how and where to focus their time and resources.”
It is hoped that this work will not only help to fight Zika, but could have a positive effect on future public health issues. “This set of tools is being prototyped for the Zika response, but will also be applicable to future emergencies,” said Google.
The $1 million donation is expected to be used to help UNICEF inform the public about the virus, develop vaccines and exterminate mosquito populations. Google also announced that it will match any employee donations with the aim of providing an extra $500,000 in funding to UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization.
Click here to see a map which uses Google searches to show how interest in the Zika virus has increased.
Zika virus worrying officials around the world
Zika continues to spread at a rapid rate through Latin America. Not only is it linked to microcephaly, but scientists have also discovered a possible connection between the virus and a neurological illness known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The results of a study published in medical journal The Lancet suggest that Zika “might cause” Guillain-Barré syndrome. Scientists found that 42 people were diagnosed with GBS during a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia, and patients displayed possible symptoms of the virus.
There is no definitive proof that Zika is linked to GBS. However there is no vaccination for the virus and no effective treatment has yet been found.
Possible symptoms of the virus include mild fever, skin rash and muscle or joint pain. Medical professionals have trouble identifying patients because 4 out of 5 sufferers display no symptoms.
The situation is complicated by strict laws on abortion in Latin America. In many countries in the region abortion is illegal unless the life of the mother is in danger. Health officials are worried that public policy may be putting lives at risk and encouraging the spread of the virus.