NTU designs app that can predict dengue hotspots

SINGAPORE - When it comes to stopping dengue, being a social media junkie might just help.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed a social media-based system called Mo-Buzz that can predict where and when dengue might strike with the help of members of the public.

It combines a public health surveillance web application with a social media-based mobile app.

The web application taps into past data on weather and dengue incidents, while the mobile app encourages members of the public to report mosquito bites and breeding sites via smart phones and tablets.

These reports are geo-tagged to the user's location and shown live on Google Maps in the system.

As soon as an area on the map is identified as a hotspot, health alerts and education messages can be quickly sent to residents in that area.

By leveraging crowdsourcing and advanced computing, Mo-Buzz can potentially predict dengue outbreaks weeks in advance, and enable users to help health authorities monitor the spread of dengue in real-time using their mobile devices.

"This new capability represents a significant shift in how the spread of dengue and other infectious diseases can and will be monitored in the future," said Associate Professor May O. Lwin, the principal investigator of the programme.

"What we're hoping to do with a dynamic system like Mo-Buzz is to create active channels of communication between citizens and health authorities during the dengue season. The main advantage is that it helps everyone take preventive action well ahead of time, which is what is important for preventing dengue and saving lives," he added.

In addition, health alerts and advice can be tailored to locations and users. For example, users can receive customised health information that they can share with their family and friends using social networking tools such as Facebook, Twitter and even SMS.

This encourages the community to adopt behaviours that will reduce their risk of contracting dengue.

The system was developed at the Centre of Social Media Innovations for Communities (COSMIC), which was created to develop social media innovations to help society.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has invited COSMIC to implement the system in Monaragala, a rural district that is part of the WHO's global network of age friendly cities and communities.