Innovations in crowd-sourcing disease

Mar 14, 2016, 2:58 PM EDT
(Source: ASCOM Prefeitura de Votuporanga/flickr)
(Source: ASCOM Prefeitura de Votuporanga/flickr)

As concerns over the Zika virus mount, crowdsourcing application technology is garnering increased attention as well, thanks to its potential to pinpoint the origins of diseases and highly concentrated affected areas. 

Flu Near You, for example, is a crowdsourcing tool that has expanded its data collection to include Zika, chikungunya and dengue symptoms, which include eye pain, yellow skin/eyes and joint/bone pain, according to Scientific Computing. The website is also available as a mobile app, which was created by epidemiologists at Harvard, Boston Children’s Hospital and The Skoll Global Threats Fund, and which relies on the participation of the general public to help report health statuses and build out disease surveillance capabilities.

Last month, Blouin News reported on how the Sickweather app (a service that allows for real-time illness mapping) launched Sickweather Groups, a platform for “anonymously reporting symptoms to locations fed by Foursquare — including schools, workplaces, restaurants, hospitals, theme parks, and more,” according to the company. Sickweather adds that it can be used for reporting a range of sicknesses “from allergies to Zika.”

Crowd-sourcing technology itself has existed for years. Now, several global non-profits are exploring how to use these big data capabilities to stem disease. At the same time, wider adoption and application to real-life emergencies is boosting public interest in the tech. No one wants to see another Ebola, not to mention additional outbreaks of Zika or the vicious strains of dengue currently present in Malaysia and Hawaii.

This tech has long been a focus of the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit. In 2013, for example, Alex “Sandy” Pentland from MIT’s Media Lab explained how big data has been used to pinpoint origins of malaria outbreaks, and how mobile tech can aid disease containment work.

Web giants are paying attention too. Google announced earlier this month that its engineers are teaming up with UNICEF to build an open-source platform to process data to visualize potential Zika outbreaks. The tech is there, it just has to be utilized.