The Zika Alert! challenge is an important meeting space for epidemiology and big data students and experts to explore the potential of data and technology in the search for solutions to combat the Zika virus.

Zika Alert! is a collaborative event sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to explore the potential of data and technology to improve responses to the Zika virus. Four students from FGV’s School of Applied Mathematics (EMAp), divided into two teams, participated in the challenge for FGV and PUC-RJ undergraduate and graduate students with expertise in data analysis, statistics, big data, data science, and computer science. The Datathon, a data analysis marathon, was held at LabRio on December 2 and 3.

One of FGV’s teams, comprising students Eduardo Cesar Nogueira Coutinho and João Marcos Gris, ranked first for developing an interactive website for visualizing epidemics and supporting public policies. The project uses statistical techniques and the data modeling product of the Dengue Alert, by EMAp. The second team, formed by Bruno Cuconato Claro and Márcio Maciel Bastos, developed a visualization model using fine satellite data. The project was not completed, but the team was invited to continue it in partnership with Amazon and the IDB.

“Participating in the challenge was an opportunity to develop and apply mathematics and computing knowledge to a difficult problem. My greatest challenge was time, which being so short had to be managed with care so that we could complete a project with the minimum required for the presentation,” said Coutinho.

For Klaus Stier, project coordinator of FGV’s Latin American Public Policy Center (CLPP), part of FGV's International Affairs Division’s (DINT), who organized the work of the students in partnership with EMAp professors Renato Rocha and Flávio Coelho, participating in the challenge represents an opportunity for students to immerse themselves in data and enhance their ability to interpret, develop, and present a product with social impact in a short time.

“Despite the short time to draw up a scenario for combating Zika in Rio de Janeiro (approximately 24 hours), the winning group was able to work with data and present a final product to the City Department of Health. The idea is that this can kick off the development of a more elaborate product, able to correlate epidemic outbreaks to environmental variables, and contribute to our understanding of the spreading of the disease in our city. Congratulations to our students!” said Stier.

According to the project coordinator, “We live in a time of fiscal crisis in Rio de Janeiro. In this scenario of increasing budgetary constraint, the ability to develop predictive settings will be increasingly important and valuable to combat threats (such as disease outbreaks) and ensure a precise allocation of public resources in strategic areas,” he added.

The Zika Alert! challenge is an important meeting space for epidemiology and big data students and experts to explore the potential of data and technology in the search for solutions to combat the Zika virus.

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