Though we have seen an endless advance in medical practices, our modern world is still faced with the challenge of global epidemics. While rapid advances in medicine and technology have facilitated the spread of medical resources and remedies, we are still up against unknown viruses. One of the biggest topic on everyone’s mind right now is the Zika virus outbreak, which was declared a Public Health Emergency by the World Health Organization in February. In most cases, the mosquito-borne virus doesn’t demonstrate any symptoms, but it has been linked to microcephaly, a fatal birth defect in which a baby’s head is malformed due to abnormal brain development. At the moment there is no preventative vaccine or medication to treat a Zika infection, but Google has stepped in to pledge their dedication to preventing the transmission of Zika.
In a blog post published on Thursday, Google announced a $1 million grant to 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.” UNICEF anticipates their efforts will reach 200 million individuals affected or left vulnerable by the virus throughout Brazil and Latin America. Google has also set up a matching campaign for their employees, which will provide up to an additional $500,000 to UNICEF and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
The outbreak of the Zika virus has been particularly difficult to control because of a combination of factors at play. Of those infected, 4 of 5 will not experience any symptoms, so many of those affected will not even realize they are carrying the virus. Aedes mosquitoes are a primary transmitter of the disease, but their spread is wide and difficult to terminate. These two challenges mean that the approach to fighting Zike requires spreading and raising awareness about protection, and supporting organizations with the means for driving the development of fast diagnostics and vaccines. Google has also assembled a volunteer team of its own engineers, designers, and data scientists to help UNICEF create a platform to process data from various sources into visualizations of potential outbreaks. This initiative is intended to help different regions, UNICEF, governments and NGO’s identify their risk of Zika transmission, and how to combat its spread. The platforms and tools they create will also function as prototypes for future emergencies. This integration of technology, medicine and philanthropy is a model for global initiatives that will benefit future generations, especially those who are vulnerable.