IBM Joins Fight Against
Dengue and Zika
March 13, 2017
is helping Taiwan and Panama battle dengue fever and the Zika virus, two
mosquito-borne illnesses that have also caused concern in the United
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
For the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC), IBM helped create
computer models that might be useful in predicting the effect of
interventions to fight dengue fever. 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. In Taiwan, from 2003 to 2013, there were less than 2,000
annual cases. However, significant outbreaks have occurred Taiwan during
recent years, with tens of thousands of new cases.
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 created computer models that can
simulate the impact of wolbachia on the mosquito population and on the
number of human dengue cases. IBM 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.
According to Dr. Jih-Haw Chou, Director General for Taiwan's Centers for
Disease Control, "The Health Corps team we hosted last fall has not only
enhanced my agency's data analytics capability, but also inspired my
staff to utilize the analytics framework to accelerate the work in
global disease detection and in fighting against the threat of emerging
and re-emerging infectious 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
IBM Health Corps team showed us teamwork, profound insights, and great
problem solving abilities."
in 2016, Health Corps is IBM's latest example of pro bono consulting and
technology services within the company's portfolio of problem solving
initiatives. Health Corps deploys cross-disciplinary teams that draw
upon IBM's capabilities in data analytics, cognitive and cloud
computing, mobile app development, Internet of Things, weather and
health consulting to design strategies that help communities improve a
given aspect of public health. The goal is to address disparities in
healthcare access, improve services and increase impact.
"When we established IBM's Health Corps, we looked to address stubborn
issues that are of critical importance to the well being of many
different populations and communities," said Jennifer Ryan Crozier, Vice
President, IBM Global Citizenship Initiatives. "I think it's fair to say
that mosquito-borne illnesses remain one of the great public health
challenges of our day, in whatever hemisphere you find yourself in.
That's why we were so pleased to have worked with premier, forward
thinking health organizations in Panama and Taiwan, whose collaboration
with IBM was so exciting and promising. We are eager to see where our
work there will lead."