Zika - Healthcare Communications

Google boosts Zika outreach efforts with $1M grant

In Clinical Development, Orphan Drug Congress, Orphan Drugs Live by Freya Smale

Funding to UNICEF will help predict outbreaks and raise public awareness about prevention, according to Google’s official blog.     

For Google.org, the search is just beginning.

The philanthropic arm of the Internet tech giant has announced a $1 million grant to help UNICEF and other global organizations fight Zika.

A blog post on Thursday by Jacquelline Fuller, director of Google.org, reads in part:

A volunteer team of Google engineers, designers and data scientists is helping UNICEF build a platform to process data from different sources (i.e., weather and travel patterns) in order to visualize potential outbreaks. Ultimately, the goal of this open source platform is to identify the risk of Zika transmission for different regions and help UNICEF, governments and NGO’s decide how and where to focus their time and resources. This set of tools is being prototyped for the Zika response, but will also be applicable to future emergencies.

Fuller says Google has seen a “more than 3,000 percent increase in global search interest since November,” and she calls the possible link between the mosquito-borne virus and microcephaly and other serious birth defects “particularly alarming.”

Caryl Stern, president and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, told Reuters 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.

Late last year, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency. Fuller says that unlike many other global pandemics, the spread of the virus has been harder to identify, map and contain.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that four in five people with the condition don’t show any symptoms.

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Reuters reported the grant will help UNICEF volunteers on the ground, mostly in Latin America. There are nearly 5,000 confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly in Brazil.

How to reach the masses

The scope of the grant from California-based Google includes several public outreach and education components:

  • Updates to Google products to make information on Zika more available.
  • New bilingual educational videos, including a video of Elmo teaching kids how to avoid mosquito bites. (Google owns YouTube.)
  • Fresh information in 16 languages that offers an overview of the virus and facts on symptoms.
  • Public health alerts that can be updated as news breaks.

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It’s not just Google

Smaller technology—and even online media startups such as StatNews.com—are providing Zika-related information. The health, life sciences and medical news site is part of The Boston Globe and boasts a large international audience. NiemanLab.org reported recently that Stat launched a running news tracker called “Zika in 30 seconds” and is now offering the updates as daily emails, too.

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Public concerns continue to grow about the virus. Recent news has addressed:

  • The sexual transmission of Zika
  • Vaccine development
  • World travel, including that of employers and business professionals
  • The Summer Olympic Games in Brazil

Communicators and providers alike must be proactive to understand the virus and share valuable information with their communities, especially women.

Susan Young is editor of Ragan’s Health Care Communication News, a daily website for PR, marketing and branding professionals who work in hospitals and health care. 

Health Care Communication News are media partners for the World Orphan Drug Congress USA 2016. 

World Orphan Drug Congress USA 2016