Each year, dengue fever infects about 50 million people, and 2.5 billion are at risk from the virus. Dengue is on the rise in urban areas around the tropical world, but it is largely preventable. The Social Apps Lab at CITRIS is developing a cell phone app that uses crowdsourcing and local knowledge to help urban residents address this global problem.
Dengue is caused by a virus transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Eliminate the mosquitoes and you prevent the disease. But the insects breed quickly in stagnant water, and the uncovered barrels, buckets, discarded tires, and ditches common in densely populated urban areas make for perfect mosquito habitat.
Draining every source of stagnant water in a city like São Paulo is an impossible job for centralized government agencies, and the Social Apps Lab @ CITRIS is working with government, industry, and university partners to launch the new application, DengueTorpedo, in Brazil.
It works this way: when a user comes upon a potential mosquito breeding site, that user can use the sms-based app to log it in, fix it on a local map, and upload a photograph. Players will get points for identifying breeding locations as well as for eliminating them and for recruiting new players. Those points can be traded for prizes like upgraded cell phones or free texting and cell-minutes.
In addition to the technical challenge of making a game that works on basic cell-phone technology, which is ubiquitous in Brazil, the project also requires an understanding of the political, economic, and cultural context in which it is to be played. Anthropologists, health researchers, local residents, entrepreneurs, phone carriers, and politicians have all collaborated on DengueTorpedo. DengueTorpedo will be launched as a pilot project in two neighborhoods of São Paulo’s urban periphery during Brazil’s 2011/2012 dengue fever season.