A smartphone app that’s helping solve the menace of Malaria is getting quite a bit of traction lately. The app made by Associate Professor Benjamin Jacob of the College of Public Health, University of South Florida (USF), uses an algorithm that pairs the drones with satellite images to identify the locations of areas where mosquitoes are bred. Thanks to this, Jacob was able to destroy 100% of identified habitats in 31 days in Uganda where Malaria is the leading cause of death. Also Read - Karnataka government launches AVGC Center of Excellence with Animation, VFX, Gaming courses
Jacob has been researching mosquitoes since 2010. Only after 10 years, did he study artificial intelligence algorithms on drones that helped him pinpoint the location of mosquitoes. This predictive mapping helped him discover 9,000 mosquito habitats with dengue and zika viruses present in Hillsborough, Manatee, and Polk counties. Also Read - CSC launches Yogyata app for rural empowerment
The app’s success made him launch a program called “Seek and Destroy” that allows him to train government agencies on how to use the app in infectious areas. This program is being used in Cambodia, Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda to allow their governments to quickly identify the vulnerable areas before the outbreak of disease. Also Read - Opera for Chromebooks is the world's first alternative browser optimised for Chrome OS
Jacob went to Uganda, a region where malaria is the leading cause of death among children under five, and discovered that each of the 120 homes he studied had a swarm of mosquitoes. Nearly 200 mosquitoes were found in each of these 120 homes. But with the help of local insect control officers he trained, Jacob was able to destroy 100% of the identified habitats in merely 31 days. He also eliminated the blood parasite level in previously treated and suspected malaria patients in 62 days.
“What those countries are dealing with is a tragedy beyond describing,” said Jacob. “For me, training the local people is huge. They want the knowledge and I think they are willing to do whatever it takes to stop malaria.”
How the system detects the habitats is it identifies specific environments and organisms by their unique fingerprint. A fingerprint is a red-green-blue value pertaining exclusively to each species or habitat.
Jacob trained the drone to capture image datasets through his algorithms that allow this system to learn key features like mud or vegetation based on fingerprints. The final image that comes is then processed and covered with identified sources of water on those surfaces.
Later it is classified into different categories based on the presence or absence of mosquito larvae and whether the water is positive for mosquitoes to breed. With this, system Jacob was 100% accurate in locating the bodies of water where mosquitoes offspring.
Other than mosquitoes, Jacob is now working on a new program called “Slash and Clear” which will help him extend his technology in identifying black fly larval, a species that’s known to cause onchocerciasis – a disease that causes blindness. If this program succeeds, then it will likely be used globally to help the menace of onchocerciasis.