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High School Student Gabrielle Wong Discusses The Importance Of Studying Vector-Borne Diseases

High School Student Gabrielle Wong Discusses The Importance Of Studying Vector-Borne Diseases
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For this young individual, giving back to those in need is a passion-turned mission. Gabrielle Wong is utilising her skills to develop sustainable and effective methods to assist with vector-borne diseases – a secondary side effect of climate change. Continue reading to learn more.

The topic of climate change is not a new one, but over the years it’s become a more prominent issue throughout the world as its impact worsens. There’s often news coverage on the culprit of climate change – greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels – and the direct effects. These include rising sea levels, hotter temperatures, increased drought, health risks, and more. But the indirect effects, not as largely discussed, impact sociological, political, and economic climate issues. One of them is the increasing transmission of vector-borne diseases, an indirect effect of rising temperatures. 

Vector-borne diseases are defined by the World Health Organization as “human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses, and bacteria that are transmitted by vectors,” which are categorised as “living organisms that can transmit infectious pathogens between humans, or from animals to humans. Many of these vectors are bloodsucking insects.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, vector-borne diseases have increased in recent decades, including malaria, dengue, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease, and are expected to further increase within the next 80 years if no changes are made.

Enter 17-year-old Gabrielle Wong, a high school student intersecting anthropology and computer science with a mission to provide viable solutions to help curb this dire situation. And her solutions are ingenious, to say the least. 

“I developed a software called GeoMosquito which monitors mosquito density malaria rates in Sub-Saharan Africa using satellite climate and agricultural data, most notably rice field data,” she explains. The system, GeoMosquito, was so successful it won first place in the Maxar Climate Mapping Challenge in the 2022 NFTE World Series of Innovation.

To further enhance her innovation, Gabrielle built a sustainable machine, equipped with a drone, which “serves as a mosquito logging device using acoustic sensors to detect mosquitoes,” she discusses. The machine is called MosquitoSat, and its ergonomic design makes it easy to use – one of her primary goals. And the reason for this lies in the region Gabrielle dedicated her research – rural areas in Nigeria, which account for the highest production of rice in the country. 

Changing climates are one of the main contributing factors to vector-borne diseases and tropical and subtropical low and middle-income countries are affected the worst. The most tropical of all continents, Africa, bears the largest impact of malaria, the deadliest vector-borne disease. In 2022, 619,000 deaths were recorded caused by malaria, and the area that faced a majority of those deaths was Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Nigeria. 

Upon collecting data for her machine, Gabrielle realised the inequality between data collection methods in this region.

“We have a lot of data about urbanised locations such as Hong Kong or the UK,” she says, “but in rural areas in Nigeria, or areas in SubSaharan Africa, you really couldn’t gauge how much viable data you had. In the end, specifically because it’s so rural, the collection methods were either too expensive to execute, too remote to execute, or just not viable given other factors.”

Africa is facing the brunt of climate change, despite the continent contributing the least to global warming. As stated by Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, “frequent floods, water – and vector-borne diseases are deepening health crises.” But the affected countries lack the necessary data collection methods to warn and prevent the transmission of disease-ridden vectors. 

But Gabrielle’s innovations, which use software development and machine learning analysis, propose a scalable solution to this dilemma. And this is where the ergonomic and sustainable design comes into play as it makes it easy for people living in those at-risk areas to use. 

When asked about her vision for her machine, Gabrielle answered assuredly:

“I think it’s definitely something that can be applied around the world. As climate change increases temperatures, we will all start to feel the effects of more vector-borne disease transmission worldwide. It may not be today, it might not be tomorrow, or next year, but it will be sometime in the future. And I think that if I continue developing this machine in university, and beyond, it can be a very accurate and very useful tool to help people when the time comes.”

You’d think Gabrielle’s humanitarian efforts stop there, but this young individual never ceases to impress. Back in 2019, Cambodia experienced heavy flooding, damaging communities within rural areas. After hearing the tragic news, she knew she wanted to help in any way she could. And so began her volunteer journey, painting and building homes, while also taking the time to visit local schools and connect with the children. 

But what she discovered left an impact she couldn’t quite shake. 

“There was a little girl I met that was really enthusiastic about devices and technology,” Gabrielle reflects, and “she was also a student there learning English, and said she really wanted to have a computer or a phone or some kind of digital device.” But the sad reality is, the children weren’t afforded the opportunity to interact with computers, a fundamental part of Gabrielle’s education and work. 

“I was thinking, who could provide them with the computers? Who could provide them with this teaching? And it struck me that maybe I could do my part and try and help them,” she continues. 

Two years later, she founded the Discimus Foundation. With a mission to provide computers and quality computer and coding lessons to children around the world, the foundation has achieved this and so much more. Currently, the foundation offers 800 plus lessons to a student attendance of over 9,000 and has provided more than 45 computers to children across 5 countries. She has presented her work at large global festivals such as the Women’s Forum For The Economy And Society and the UNESCO Learning Planet Festival.

 

Through Discimus, Gabrielle was also nominated as a finalist for The Commonwealth Youth Award and received The 2023 Diana Award, the most prestigious accolade a young person aged 9-25 years can receive for their social action or humanitarian work.

Making the world a better, safer place is more than just a wish for Gabrielle, it’s her purpose. And she’s already proven just how powerful taking action is. 

To learn more about Gabrielle Wong and Discimus Foundation, visit her website today and discover how you can help! 

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