In the latest SpaceWatch Middle East interview, Helen Jameson talks to Ana Cristina van Oijhuizen Galhego Rosa, Founder and CEO of Dipteron, about their application that can save lives.
First of all, can you please tell us about your background and what has inspired you to found Dipteron?
I am a lawyer with background and knowledge in the space sector and working experience in international organisations. Since 2008, I have been working as an observer and legal advisor for the Brazilian delegation during the Legal Subcommittee meetings of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna. I am also an expert member of the Brazilian Association of Air and Space Law (SBDA). Besides my degree in law from São Paulo Catholic University, Brazil, I also hold a postgraduate in international law and international trade law from Lisbon University, Portugal. In addition, I completed my Masters in air and space law at the International Institute of Air and Space Law at Leiden University, the Netherlands, and in 2014, the Space Studies Program of the International Space University (ISU) in Montreal, Canada.
The idea to become an entrepreneur started when I was attending the Business Department during the ISU Space Studies Program. When I returned to the Netherlands, where I live at present, I participated in the 2015 ESA App Challenge competition. I participated in the winning team that later won second place in the European level. After this, I split the team and came up with my own idea for the ESA-SAP App Challenge competition in Germany, in 2015. I started to research how space technologies could help mankind and make a significant impact in the society. As I am originally from Brazil and it has been faced with huge problems with Aedes mosquito diseases, I saw the opportunity to use space technology and trying to make the difference.
As a visionary, I built a team and initiated a partnership with mundialis, a German company that specialises in the evaluation of remote sensing data and the processing of voluminous geodata with the help of powerful computing centres (www.mundialis.de). Since then, the project has received other awards: selected team for the ESA Earth Observation Entrepreneurship Initiative (EOEI) call in June 2016; finalist of the Copernicus Masters competition at ESA App Challenge (October 2016); member of the winning team of Dengue Hack competition (December 2016) in Brussels, Belgium and best model prediction and presentation. Then, in March 2017, Dipteron incubated at the ESA Business Incubation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, at cesah where we recently (May 2017) signed the incubation contract, opened and registered it officially as company.
What kind of threat do Aedes mosquitoes pose to mankind and which world regions are most at risk?
Currently, there is a global threat of vector-borne diseases associated with the Aedes mosquitoes (Aedes aegypt and Aedes albopictus) and a high concentration of them in tropical and subtropical regions around the globe. More than 2 billion people are at risk of being infected by mosquito borne diseases like Zika virus, Dengue or Chikungunya transmit by the bite of the Aedes mosquito. Several factors such as international trade, weak health systems, population growth, development of large cities and global warming contribute to this situation.
There are approximately 390 million dengue infections and 500,000 cases of Dengue haemorrhagic fever per year around the world, 1.7 million suspected cases of Chikungunya virus reported to the Pan American Health Organization and a wide distribution of the Zika virus in the Americas regions.
Added to Dengue, Zika virus and Chikungunya disease have presented a high incidence in the Americas region. As of June 2016, the cumulative Zika suspected and confirmed cases reported in the Americas for 2015-2016 were 363,990 and 52,003 respectively. Chikungunya disease has generated almost 30,000 confirmed cases in the region in the same period.
These epidemics can have a significant economic and health impact. As an example, in endemic countries in the Americas and Asia, Dengue represents a burden of 1,300 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per million population. In terms of economic losses, prospective studies of the costs of dealing with dengue disease in eight different countries of America and Asia (including Brazil), estimated a general annual cost for each country as I$587 million (I$= the value that international dollars had in the year 2005). There is a possibility of that this could rise to I$1.8 billion considering the unreported cases, generating not only losses in the health sector, but also in the general economy of the countries.
Only Dengue has a licensed vaccine (Dengvaxia), and only a few countries have approved this vaccine. Furthermore, the control of the Aedes population is not an easy task, since Aedes mosquitoes are well adapted to urban areas because of its propensity to breed in man-made containers, its strong anthropophilic (preference to humans) and diurnal biting behaviour, and short flying range.
Tell us about Dipteron app and its mobile data services and how it works. When will it be available?
Dipteron is a mobile application for the detection of Aedes mosquito risk areas based on a specially developed algorithm that combines satellite data (derived climatic variables, landscape structure, among others) and ground data (biological and epidemiological data). It provides a risk map where users are located or want to go so they will be informed, with a high degree of precision and reliability, about low, medium and high risk areas of the presence of Aedes mosquito. It supports travel organisations including hotel and accommodation in low risk areas; provides precautionary measures at the beginning, during and after travels, contact information for medical assistance, hospitals, pharmacies, disease symptoms and countermeasures; and enables the exchange of information and tips among users.
The app was initially developed for business travellers so they can avoid risk areas and mitigate the risk of infection by Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya or even save their lives in the event that they may contract a potentially severe form of the diseases (e.g. severe dengue). This is particularly important as vaccines for Zika and Chikungunya diseases are still in development phases and trials will not begin until later this year or until next year.
At the moment, users can obtain information through health organisations regarding the most affected countries and the number of disease cases. However, they do not give the exact areas where the mosquitoes are, only where cases of the diseases occur, which usually does not mean the precise area with presence of Aedes mosquitoes. Disease cases are reported in one area but transmission could be occurring in other area. There are apps on the market, but they only give information resulting from the sharing of information between users, information regarding symptoms and mosquitoes but none of them give the information regarding risks areas where persons can be bitten
Dipteron will be available for the B2B2C market. We are, at this moment, building our beta version and we envisage the app going to market in 2018 for cities in Brazil (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte e Fortaleza), in Mexico (Mexico City). Then it will be rolled out for cities in Asia (e.g., Bangalore, Mumbai, Hong Kong, etc) and Central America (e.g., Cancun).
The governmental sector is indeed one of our customers. We have also developed a web service in saas mode (software as a service) so that governments will get precise and reliable maps in order to estimate risk to the population and/or propose mitigation action plans. We will also be able to provide specific services on demand (more specific areas, other functionalities).
What stage is the company currently at in terms of co-operation and funding?
The company has just incubated at the ESA Business Incubation Centre, in Darmstadt, Germany and it has just officially registered as a German company.
The Dipteron team is composed of Carlos Alberto Montenegro Quinonez, a biologist with a background in entomology, Rogério Thomé, a senior systems analyst and GIS specialist hired from Brazil, and myself, as founder and CEO. Dipteron has already made its first partnership with Hinrich Paulsen and Dr. Markus Neteler, general managers of mundialis GmbH & Co. Kg, a German R&D company covering the full bandwidth from remote sensing data acquisition to processing and optimisation.
We are currently studying a proposal to integrate into a project together with the Mexico Space Agency and other Mexican institutions to develop the application in two Mexican cities. In addition, we are conducting price research and collecting feedback information from potential clients.
Currently, we are looking for investors in order to expand the team and partnerships with space agencies, governmental and non-governmental health institutions, etc.
Who do you expect will form your core customer base?
Our core customer base will be governmental and non-governmental sanitary risk surveillance organisations that are willing to develop mitigation action and industrial companies with staff operating in countries at risk.
What are the next steps for the company?
Marketing research and looking for investors.
How do you envisage the company’s growth over the coming months (and years)?
Dipteron plans to support its service expansion through more partnerships at local and international level, building up our marketing and business development, extending the app functionalities for other geographical regions, other potential customers as well as other vector bearing diseases, and tailoring the mobile data services for web-based applications. Additionally, Dipteron intends to increase the revenue by at least an average rate of 20% per year over five years and increase the staff size by at least a factor of 20% per year over five years.
How can the SpaceWatch Middle East Readership help Dipteron?
I believe that the SpaceWatch Middle East Readership can help Dipteron by publicising it to other people, governments, health institutions, companies, and among others which need of Dipteron services. The more of the world that is aware of our application, the better we can try to decrease the number of Aedes mosquitoes’ diseases cases which now represent 40% of diseases on the planet and where more than 2 billion of people are at risk.
SpaceWatch Middle East thanks Ana Cristina van Oijhuizen Galhego Rosa, Founder and CEO of Dipteron, for the interview.