Google announced on Thursday that its engineers were working with U.N. child agency UNICEF to build a platform that aims to map and predict potential outbreaks of the Zika virus, linked to birth defects among children in Brazil.
Alphabet Inc’s Google said in a statement it was providing a $1 million grant to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund to help their volunteers on the ground, mostly in Latin America. The U.S. company said that it was also now prominently surfacing information about the virus in its search engine.
Google also says it has a volunteer team of engineers, designers and data scientists who are currently working with UNICEF to build a new platform that will help the organization identify the risk of transmission and “help UNICEF, governments and NGO’s decide how and where to focus their time and resources.”
The tool currently concentrates on Zika; however, the idea here is to establish a platform that would also be beneficial for future outbreaks of other diseases.
Chris Fabian, UNICEF Innovation Co-Lead, said the open source platform could be expanded for global use and employed in future disease outbreaks.
“As a company whose mission is helping people find information, with a lot of experience in analyzing large sets of data, we’re in a good position to help—at scale and at speed,” Google.org director Jacquelline Fuller writes today. “So today we have Google engineers working with UNICEF to analyze data to determine how to map and anticipate the virus. We’ve also made some updates to our products to make Zika information more accessible, and we’re providing UNICEF with a $1 million grant to help their efforts on the ground.”
The outbreak of Zika in Brazil, first detected last year, has been linked to 4,863 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly, a condition defined by unusually small heads that can lead to developmental problems.
The Zika virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, is spreading rapidly across South America and beyond, according to the World Health Organization, which last month declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
Yet, much about Zika remains in the dark, including whether the virus truly causes microcephaly. One of the complications in tracking the outbreak is that no reliable test for the virus exists, and in many cases victims present no symptoms.
Caryl M. Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, said the Google grant would help UNICEF to reach 200 million people in the region who are either affected by or vulnerable to Zika with information on how they can protect themselves.
The company is also sparing no effort in working with a number of popular YouTubers, including Sesame Street, to raise awareness about Zika and how to prevent it.