As UK Reports More Zika Cases, IBM Offers Up Free Technology To Fight Virus

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IBM gives Brazilian scientists free access to supercomputer and dishes out detailed weather forecasts to UNICEF

Three British citizens have been diagnosed with the mosquito-borne Zika virus this week after returning from abroad, just days after the first European case of a child born with a Zika-linked birth defect was diagnosed in Spain.

The new cases come one week before Brazil kicks off the 2016 Olympic Games, amid new estimates that put 1.65 million women in Latin America at risk to the virus. The first locally transmitted Zika cases have also been confirmed this week in the United States. No vaccine exists yet to fight the virus, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) is scrambling to further understand the spread of the virus and its link with microcephaly – the birth defect Zika causes.

Fight

With an ongoing international effort to curb Zika’s spread, IBM has now offered up its technology and computing expertise to help scientists and the public health community to fight the virus.

As part of the aid, IBM is giving scientists in Brazil software that helps model the spread of infectious diseases, weather data, free computing power on IBM’s World Community Grid, and access to cloud software that can analyse masses of social media chatter.

Coming in the form of IBM’s Impact Grant programs, IBM is providing technology and talent to Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), a research institution affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

brazil sao paolo cristo redentor telefonica © Mark Schwettmann shutterstock_73059592Fiocruz plans to help track the spread of Zika by using technology developed by IBM to analyse clues ranging from observations recorded by the general public on social media to official data about human travel patterns.

IBM currently runs the ‘OpenZika’ project on the company’s World Community Grid. With the crowd-sourced virtual supercomputer, scientists in Brazil and the US now have the ability to screen millions of chemical compounds to identify candidates for treatments to combat the Zika virus. In the first two months of the study, more than 50,000 volunteers enrolled and donated the equivalent of 4,000 years of computing time and performed more than 20,000 virtual experiments, said IBM, saving researchers $1.5 million in equivalent computing resources.

The Weather Company

IBM is also offering up a year’s free subscription to a feed of highly local, daily rainfall, average temperature and humidity data to the US Fund for UNICEF. The data will come from IBM’s The Weather Company, and help UNICEF better understand patterns of the spread of Zika.

“Outputs from the platform will allow UNICEF and other agencies to more rapidly understand our increasingly complex world,” said IBM. “Rainfall, temperature and humidity play key roles in the development of Aedes aegypti larvae, the primary mosquito that carries Zika. Over 20,000 of these weather-related data points spread across Brazil can provide daily information used to help estimate the larvae’s proliferation.”

IBM will also work with Fiocruz to identify and understand citizen concerns by analysing public, Portuguese-language tweets that discuss the incidence of Zika, dengue, and Chikungunya, as well as the appearance of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the species mainly responsible for these illnesses.

After Fiocruz chooses search parameters, IBM’s Research Lab in Brazil will then put IBM’s cloud-based analytics technology to work to harvest and interpret the data.

But IBM isn’t the first technology company to offer help in the fight against the virus. In March, a team of Google engineers, designers, and data scientists helped UNICEF build a platform to process data from different sources like weather and travel patterns in order to visualise potential outbreaks.

Ultimately, the goal of this open source platform is to identify the risk of Zika transmission for different regions and help UNICEF, governments and NGOs decide how and where to focus their time and resources, said Google. The search giant said it hopes the tools created in this effort will also be applicable to future emergencies.

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