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Google Is Working With UNICEF To Map The Zika Virus

Its engineers and designers are building an open-source platform to visualize potential outbreaks.

[Photo: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images]

Google has a volunteer team of engineers, designers, and data scientists working with UNICEF to build open-source tools to help visualize potential outbreaks of the Zika virus, reports Reuters. The Zika virus is the latest global health epidemic and has spread to at least 30 countries, mainly in Latin America, since last year when it was first detected. The virus has been linked to 4,863 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly, a birth defect condition that causes babies to have unusually small heads.

Google’s team of volunteers is building a platform that will process data from myriad sources, including travel patterns and weather, to visualize potential Zika outbreaks. Right now little is known about the Zika virus, which is believed to be transmitted by mosquitos.

"The goal of this open-source platform was 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," a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

UNICEF’s Innovation co-lead, Chris Fabian, told Reuters the open source platform being built by Google could be expanded for global use and also be used to track future disease outbreaks. In addition to the team of volunteers from Google building the platform, the company is also contributing to fighting Zika by giving a $1 million grant to UNICEF to help their volunteers on the ground.

Caryl M. Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, told Reuters that the grant will enable the organization to reach up to 200 million people in affected regions and provide them with information on how to protect themselves. Besides Google, other tech heavyweights have entered the Zika fray. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is exploring uses of genetic engineering methods to stamp out the virus.

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