News and analysis
March 04, 2016 Commits $1.5 Million to Combat Zika Virus

Diego Herculano, Brazil Photo Press, LatinContent, Getty Images

Google's gift will raise awareness, reduce mosquito populations, and support the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines, among other things.

Google is committing $1.5 million to combat the Zika virus, $1 million of which is an outright gift to Unicef and the rest a pledge to match up to $500,000 from its employees for Unicef and the Pan American Health Organization, the company announced Thursday. That adds to the small but growing list of commitments from grant makers as global health officials call for more support.

The $1 million donation to Unicef will help raise awareness of the virus and prevention methods, reduce mosquito populations, support the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines, and buttress work with communities and governments trying to prevent further Zika transmission.

In recent months, governments and health organizations have been working to curb the virus, which is spread mainly through mosquito bites. It has affected people in nearly 40 countries including Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador. More than 150 cases have been reported in the United States.

In February, the World Health Organization designated the Zika virus a public-health emergency, an action it has taken just three times before. The designation can trigger action and funding from governments and nonprofits. The last time it occurred was during the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus in Western Africa.

Scientists suspect the virus is linked to a sharp increase in microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with unusually small heads and sometimes brain damage. The World Heath Organization estimates are that the virus will infect up to 4 million people in the Americas by year’s end. Most people infected with the virus report no symptoms.

In addition to giving money, Google is providing a volunteer team of its engineers, designers, and data scientists to help Unicef build a data-processing platform that will allow for better visualization of potential outbreaks. According to Google’s announcement, the open-source tool will also be applicable to future emergencies.

Other Support

Billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen donated $2 million last month to efforts to stop the virus’s spread. The bulk of the money will finance mosquito-control work in countries where the virus is proliferating, while $500,000 will support a company working to develop a rapid-diagnostic test.

Through his namesake foundation and Vulcan, the company that oversees both his business and philanthropic projects, Mr. Allen has been a major backer of science and medicine. In late 2014, he pledged $100 million to fight the Ebola outbreak.

Corporations, like SC Johnson, which manufactures insect repellents including Off, pledged at least $15 million in products over the next year to help families combat the mosquitoes that may carry the disease.

Other philanthropies are working in close coordination with international organizations.

A spokeswoman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has experience fighting other mosquito-borne diseases, said the philanthropy is "in close touch with the CDC, WHO, and affected countries to understand the scope of the outbreak in the Americas and explore potential areas for partnership and collaboration moving forward."

"We got deeply involved in Ebola, and we’re already getting deeply involved in Zika," Ms. Gates said in an interview with Reuters ahead of release of the foundation’s annual letter.

Send an email to Eden Stiffman.