In response to the recent spread of the Zika virus, nonprofit research institute RTI International is launching of series of initiatives to help combat the health crisis, including deploying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
RTI, which is headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C., is funding four studies in Latin America to better understand the effects of Zika on pregnant women and during which trimester a baby is most at risk; the long-term effects of the virus on babies and their families; how UAVs can be used for vector control activities of Zika-carrying mosquitos; and the public’s understanding of the virus and how to prevent it.
“World leaders are struggling with how to deal with the Zika virus – in large part because there is so much we still don’t know about its health effects and transmission,” says Wayne Holden, Ph.D., RTI International’s president and CEO. “It’s critical that we find out those answers so that policies and practices can be put in place to address the virus.”
When it comes to prevention efforts, explains RTI, vector control is currently the only disease-prevention option available to Zika. Thus, RTI says it will use drones to map potential breeding locations for the virus-carrying Aedes mosquitos: This includes objects such as pots, old tires and discarded swimming pools.
According to RTI, the improved mapping will enable targeted efforts to eliminate the mosquito-breeding habitat and improve behavior-change communication programs to high-risk villages, towns and cities.
“Because Zika virus transmission has emerged quickly and is not completely understood by researchers, it may encourage public anxiety and fear,” adds Brian Southwell, Ph.D., director of the science in the public sphere program in the center for communication science at RTI. “That anxiety and fear, in turn, could complicate public engagement in prevention programs. Our research will help us understand current public perception in Guatemala surrounding the Zika virus so that we can develop strategies to clarify myths and misinformation and promote preventive efforts.”