How Crowd-sourcing Technology Is Monitoring Zika And Other Health Conditions During The Olympics

07/20/2016 02:15 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2017

This year, 500,000 foreign visitors will travel to Rio de Janeiro to watch their favorite athletes compete in the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. As anticipation grows for the event, Zika continues to be a concern, putting Brazilians, Olympic participants and spectators on guard against the risk of contracting the virus, not to mention the risk of other mosquito borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya.

The mass gatherings of the Olympics bring large numbers of people together from every corner of the globe. The Skoll Global Threats Fund teamed up with the Brazilian Ministry of Health to launch a new smartphone application called Guardiões da Saúde, or Guardians of Health, to help people in Rio de Janeiro stay healthy during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The app allows authorities to monitor, in real time, symptoms within the "mass" that is only possible today as essentially most people have a reporting device in their pockets -- their mobile phone.

The app builds on the success of the FIFA World Cup 2014 mobile application Saúde na Copa, which was a similar partnership between the MOH Brazil and SGTF. Epitrack, a local developer from Recife, Brazil, created the mobile app and web-based applications for both the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

The goal of Guardiões da Saúde is to empower Brazilian citizens and visitors to Rio for the Games to help protect the community by answering daily questions related to their health conditions. The data collected by the application will be compiled by the Center for Integrated Health Joint Operations (CIOCS, in Portuguese), from the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for monitoring and analyzing the information collected, and quickly triggering control and prevention actions at the local, state and national level, should a health threat be detected.

In addition to user's health reports, the free application offers other services through geolocation, such as nearby Ready Units Health Services (UPAs) and pharmacies, and access to information about care and prevention. Developed as a global resource, the app is available in seven languages, including Portuguese, English, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Chinese.

It is possible to track where a health threat is spreading by embracing crowd-sourced participatory surveillance for mass events. Public participation is essential to both detect possible outbreaks early and to curb the spread of diseases by following the recommendations contained within the app. I hope everyone traveling to the Olympics will take it upon themselves to participate in Guardiões da Saúde and create a healthier environment for everyone to enjoy the Games.