Public health agencies in Panama and Taiwan are collaborating with IBM to battle dengue fever and the Zika virus.
Dengue fever is a major cause of death in the tropics and subtropics. Globally, it is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus, increasing 30-fold worldwide over the past 50 years. Though there were less than 2,000 annual cases in Taiwan from 2003 to 2013, significant outbreaks have occurred during recent years.
IBM helped create computer models that might be useful in predicting the effect of interventions to fight dengue fever for the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
One of the strategies under consideration by the Taiwan CDC is to use natural Wolbachia bacterium to make it harder for mosquitoes to carry the virus that causes dengue. IBM’s computer models can simulate the impact of Wolbachia on the mosquito population and on the number of human dengue cases.
It also created models that examined correlations between various factors, such as the relationship between a village's education level and the number of local mosquito eggs, and the relationship between temperature and larva level. The goal was to help the Taiwan CDC make more informed decisions to combat the disease.
Meanwhile, in Panama, working with Gorgas Memorial Institute in February 2017, IBM created a surveillance system, including a mobile app, for relaying time-sensitive information from field investigators to researchers, health officials and policy makers.
Public health field investigators are beginning to use the app to collect more precise geo-located information on disease outbreaks and mosquito breeding sites and will provide this to the country's Ministry of Health.
This will likely facilitate more rapid and effective decision-making for infectious disease control. Panama is conducting pilot tests of the app in three townships in the next six months and plans a country-wide roll out by April 2018.
"This tool will allow a more precise, geo-referenced, and timely gathering of mosquito breeding site information which in turn will result in a quicker response to and control of outbreaks," said Dr. Nestor Sosa, Director General, Gorgas Memorial Institute Panama.
The collaborations with public health agencies in Panama and Taiwan were performed as part of IBM's Health Corps initiative, a new, pro bono consulting program that aims to help improve public health throughout the world.