Cartago — A free app that allows the public to report pools and other areas of water where dengue-carrying mosquitoes have laid their eggs could help control outbreaks of the disease in Costa Rica and beyond, say its developers and health officials.
Costa Rican company GeoTecnologías joined forces with the country's Ministry of Health to develop the Dengue Breeding Report application. The app allows the public to report mosquito 'hatcheries' to the ministry and will allow the ministry to map this data.
The ministry regularly sends workers to find and spray pesticides on hatcheries. But it currently lacks a sophisticated system for recording these visits.
In the last year alone, Costa Rica has had the highest number of dengue cases in its history - almost 50,000 - according to the ministry. As a result, GeoTecnologías says it decided to apply its expertise to fight the disease.
"People are often concerned to see that, in a local park or in a neighbour's yard, a possible outbreak is brooding that could affect the health of their children and neighbours," says Luis Araya, commercial manager at GeoTecnologías. But with this app, he says, these worries "may be prevented by reporting it to the ministry".
He says the app has four sections. The main one enables users to store the precise location - or georeference - of a dengue breeding site, along with details such as photographs, the type of hatchery, their name and contact details and when the data were collected.
The other sections provide information about dengue prevention, and the respective contact details for the Ministry of Health and GeoTecnologías.
He adds that data collected by the app should enable the Ministry of Health to make smarter decisions about deploying resources. For example, the app's tools include 'heat maps' of the places with the greatest number of reported sites.
"Knowing how many hatcheries there are in each type of setting could also help them know where they must strengthen prevention efforts during the next hatching season," Araya says.
The developers say they plan to modify the app to enable government workers to keep track of which reported sites have been treated and which ones still need to be sprayed.
Ministry staff say they were meeting with GeoTecnologías to improve the app.
Roberto Castro, head of the permanent situation analysis of health at the ministry, tells SciDev.Net that the app allows his team to respond faster, preventing dengue cases.
Having a general idea of the number of households that have hatcheries "is not the same as having the exact address and location" of these houses, he says. "This application will allow people to report and georeference their households so we can locate them more easily and attend better to their hatcheries."
But he adds that the app could be expanded to make it possible to report other mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and chikungunya - and not only in Costa Rica, but around the world.