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July 28, 2016

IBM fights Zika virus with big data analytics

News: Donated technology will aim to track the spread of the virus.

By James Nunns

The Zika virus is continuing to plague Brazil and other countries in South America, resulting in severe health concerns and doubts cast over the Rio Olympics.

Fighting the virus has been difficult but now IBM is lending a helping hand with its technology. The company is planning to analyse information from official data about human travel patters to observations recorded on social media.

Big Blue will also donate a one-year subscription feed of local, daily rainfall, average temperature and relative humidity data to the US Fund for United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

These are important data points as rainfall, temperature, and humidity all play an important role in the development of the mosquito which carries the Zika virus.

The company is also collaborating with the Institute of Ecosystem Studies to collect and mine biological and ecological data. The idea is that this will help to create algorithms that can determine which primates are carriers for the virus.

IBM’s efforts don’t stop there as it also runs the OpenZika project on the company’s open source supercomputer called World Community Grid.

The virus has already created severe health problems in Brazil and numerous athletes have decided not to travel to the Olympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro on 5th – 21st August due to health concerns.

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IBM will supply technology to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a Brazilian science and technology organisation. Fiocruz will use IBM’s STEM program to model the spread of the disease and Big Blue will be supporting a hackathon.

This will bring together 70 software developers to build new health apps.

IBM isn’t alone in trying to fight the virus as companies like Google are also working with UNICEF in an effort to try and map and anticipate the spread of the virus.

The response from the tech companies is similar to that seen during the spread of Ebola. Google at the time donated two dollars to every one dollar donated via its website while it was also part of a group of technology volunteers to create the ‘Ebola proof’ tablet.

This work was done along with Pim de Witte of Whitespell and Daniel Cunningham at Hack4Good.

It is not clear how much of a role technology played in fighting the spread of Ebola but any positive outcomes that come as a result of data analytics will surely be welcome by the people of Brazil.

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