Public health doctoral student creates new app to fight Zika

The USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Arturo Rebollón, a doctoral student based in Panama, says it’s time to give the community the empowerment they need to combat the Zika virus in Panama.

He’s working with Esri Panamá, a geographical information systems mapping company, to create a new web application for all things Zika.

From information about Zika provided in laymen terms to prevention tips and interactive maps, the tool is meant to create a vital link, according to Rebollón.

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Dr. Arturo Rebollón and Lismarí Vásquez. (Photo courtesy of: LA PRENSA, Jazmín Saldaña)

“The whole idea is to create mobilization from the community site because the health ministry doesn’t have enough people to do it,” he said. “This tool is a link between academia, health organizations and the community.”

The content of the web application is open source and available to anyone via the web at www.geozika.com. A downloadable app is also in the works.

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The application is currently web-based and available online. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Rebollón)

Rebollón said a unique feature of the app is the ability of users to report mosquito breeding grounds anonymously.

“People know what Zika is and how to prevent it, but this adds another layer into the community knowledge and gives them empowerment so they feel more prone to report it and take care of themselves,” he said. “That’s the whole idea. They know they have a problem and they can fix it.”

Lismarí Vásquez of Esri Panamá is designing the platform for the web application, while Rebollón provides oversight on the clinical information and structure.

“It’s a very interactive way to tell a story using pictures and geolocation,” Rebollón said.

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The total number of documented cases of Zika are reported and tracked via the application. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Rebollón)

The application is currently housed on the StoryMaps platform, with interactive and updated maps indicating known mosquito breeding ground sites.

Maps are updated every two weeks.

“It fills a specific gap; we have a lot of documentation, papers, and people who are working against mosquito breeding sites, but the community doesn’t have any tool that belongs to them. So, this speaks for them and gives them the sense that they own the app and they can use it for their own benefit,” Rebollón said.

Rebollón also said they plan to provide the information collected on breeding sites to local health departments and to add filters to the maps to make navigation of cases outside of Panama accessible.

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Symptoms of infection are presented alongside graphics to make the information clear and easy to understand. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Rebollón)

The idea for the application came to Rebollón as part of his doctoral dissertation, to which he said he was looking to add a new layer of innovation.

“We know that the health ministry and the health authorities do not have enough people to fix this problem. So, you have to encourage the community to take care of themselves,” he said. “It’s very complicated, but if you give them the tools and use the proper participatory processes, they will engage in the exchange and they will do it.”

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The application includes information on transmission and tips for preventing infection. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Rebollón)

He said he hopes to see the application become utilized as an educational tool in the classroom as well, as technology is becoming the preferred mode of communication in today’s digital age.

“I highly encourage students to start using these new technologies with their community-based projects,” he said.  “We’re adding another communication that we didn’t have and we’re adding to health education using technology and a layer of empowerment for the community.”

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health