Technology in the hand and in the sky helps prevent the spread of Zika

Publié: 1 avril 2016 15:21 CET

People are tiny on the screen of a smartphone. At first sight, the image is just a van with the logo of the Brazilian Red Cross on the roof, a rescue vehicle and a tent with a red cross. People walk around grouped by their white and red clothes. They are the volunteers working on what they call ‘D Day’. The D stands for Dengue. It is an information campaign that the Brazilian Red Cross develops periodically to inform the population how to prevent the Aedes mosquito, which transmits several diseases, such as Dengue and the Chikungunya fever virus.

On this occasion, they are conducting house-to-house visits to provide information on the Zika virus, also transmitted by the mosquito and whose outbreak has caused more than 100,000 infections in the Americas, according to estimates of the World Health Organization.

The image on the screen is transmitted in real time from a drone controlled by Brazilian Red Cross volunteers.

The device picks up speed and reaches more height. Now, the camera records several rooftops. There is a container on one of them for storing water and, in another, some other open containers. The image is not clear, but there is a good chance they will collect rainwater, giving a habitat in which mosquitoes multiply.

The drone, which the Brazilian Red Cross has used in previous emergency operations to assess damage is one way that new technology is changing emergency response.

Phones have become an effective channel to disseminate preventive advice to hundreds of thousands of people. Through their Twitter profiles, in English and Spanish, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) explains, in 140 characters, what the Zika virus is and how to prevent Aedes mosquito bites. “Clean it, cover and continue doing it,” is the slogan the IFRC is also disseminating behaviors to prevent mosquitoes from breeding: cover water tanks, clean them thoroughly and repeat the operation regularly every week.

Thousands of people from Latin American countries affected by the outbreak have downloaded the First Aid application developed by the Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) on their phones. With images and videos, this application provides basic methods to address an emergency. The latest update includes preventive advice against the Aedes mosquito, ensuring that thousands of people have access to the necessary information. This update is not ready yet, but it will be ready for download in a few weeks in the first-aid applications of each National Society.

People can receive useful information on their mobile phones, and can also have the ability to send it and contribute to reducing the risks of infection. In Brazil, for example, the National Red Cross Society is conducting coordination actions with health authorities to promote the use of another useful ‘app’ that allows the person who downloads it to report potential mosquito breeding sites. The sample application allows the inclusion of a picture and GPS tracking; and this is enough to allow authorities to send personnel to clean up the breeding site. At the moment, each state develops its own application. Monitoring Centres have been enabled in the different states of the country, where these alerts are received and identified in interactive maps as risk areas.

The promotion of the participation and involvement of all communities in this emergency is essential for behavior change to be imprinted in the minds of all. If households and the whole community take the appropriate preventive measures, great progress will be achieved. Thanks to new technologies, control and prevention are literally in the palm of their hands.