IBM announces several initiatives, partnerships to fight Zika

By Jonah Comstock

IBM announced this week that it will work with Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a research institution affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Health, on a number of interconnected initiatives to combat the Zika virus.

The piece that’s attracted the most attention so far is OpenZika, a project that crowdsources the computing power of many peoples’ Android smartphones. By downloading a free app, anyone can make their phone’s extra computing power available to scientists, who will use it to screen chemical compounds to identify candidates for Zika treatments.  

According to IBM, in the first two months “more than 50,000 volunteers from all over the world have enrolled and donated the equivalent of over 4,000 years of computing time and performed more than 20,000 virtual experiments, saving researchers $1.5 million in equivalent computing resources.”

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, abbreviated “Fiocruz”, will also host a hackathon with support from IBM. About 70 mobile app developers will work on apps that help people report of identify Zika-carrying mosquitos, stay up-to-date on public health bulletins, or other relevant health functions. IBM will offer cloud technology and help recruit developer participants.

IBM and Fiocruz will also use an IBM tool called the SpatioTemporal Epedemiological Modeler, or STEM to model the spread of the disease, taking into account such factors as geography, weather, the passage of time, human travel patterns, roadways, and airports. They’ll also analyze social media postings in Portuguese about Zika and the species of mosquito that carries it.

For a few other projects IBM is working with other partners. They’re donating a one-year subscription to local weather data from The Weather Company to UNICEF, who will put it to work understanding how weather affects the spread of the virus. And IBM Research will work with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies to study which primates are Zika carriers.