The Fight Against Zika Continues in Colombia

The Fight Against Zika Continues in Colombia

By Daniela Rubio, Project Manager | Jenny Shapiro, Growth Analyst - International Development

In November 2018, we had the opportunity to visit our Zika Citizen Network pilot project in three different cities in Colombia. Funded by a USAID Grand Challenge grant, we are currently in the second stage of the two part project focusing on mitigating viruses spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito in Cali, Cúcuta, and Santa Marta. Through the creation of citizen networks, participants help identify and control mosquito breeding sites through the completion of simple guided tasks found on the Premise App.

Mosquito-borne diseases, such as Zika, malaria or Chikungunya, continue to be a huge health problem in Latin America, including in Colombia. Every year over one million people die worldwide from mosquito-related diseases.

The primary way of controlling mosquitos is by removing their breeding grounds which are generally found in containers with standing water. Vector surveillance and vector control require government workers to cover vast terrain performing time and labor intensive activities. Often the local governments lack a large number of resources needed to perform these tasks.

Premise’s solution works to fill information gaps for cities by empowering local citizens to collect data on positive breeding sites in their communities. Through the Premise App, local citizens are able to complete different Zika monitoring tasks. These include walking mapped routes, inspecting public spaces and homes, asking questions, taking photos and even destroying breeding sites. The tasks are co-designed with local health authorities to train an average citizen to identify and destroy mosquito breeding sites that can be found on a regular street, public park or in a house.


Our first stop was Cali. Our key focus during our visit was to communicate all of our progress to the new Secretary of Health in Cali, Nelson Sinisterra, and to the local community.

Mapping all the highest Aedes incidence spots in Cali per Comuna (data collection from Sumideros 2017-2018)

We originally started conversations with the city in 2016 and launched the first pilot in 2017, making Cali our longest running network for the project in Colombia. We started the second phase of the project in Cali, Colombia in March 2018 and we currently have 2,911 citizens engaged in the network in Cali.

Cali is a special network since we were previously working with a closed network (more about this soon!) during the first phase of the Zika Grand Challenge for Development grant from USAID. As such, the data collected from that initial phase allowed us to cross-reference data points from Sumidero submissions to identify key hot spots for mosquito breeding sites in the city.

We used the data analysis as a starting point to motivate and mobilize our Citizen Network towa
rd areas of the city with historical high incidence spots or a higher probability of finding positive mosquito breeding sites in those areas. The previous Secretary of Health, Alex Duran, named this strategy “the Pokemon Go for mosquitos.”

During our time in Cali, we also spoke at the cities annual public accountability event from the Secretary of Health. This is an event where all the Secretary presents results from their activities and programs during the year (2018) to the public (community members, media, other public officials). For Cali, Premise is a key partner, since we are also providing the key technology for their vector control internal operations and workflows with a closed network. In total, over 500 local citizens came to hear about the work Premise is doing in their city and were invited to download the App and join the network.


Premise team (PM – Daniela Rubio and CSS – Claudia Abello) meeting Cali’s new Secretary of Health (Nelson Sinisterra) and the Vector control team (Olga Cuellar, Clara Solis, Oscar Arroyo)


When we visited Cúcuta Premise held a press conference for local news outlets in conjunction with the Secretary of Health and the municipal government. The goal of the meeting was to help the local government gain more traction for its collaboration with Premise and increase community participation by promoting the project, as well as the major milestones the city has achieved thus far.

Premise began the deployment of the citizen network pilot in Cúcuta during early July 2018, with the Cúcuta’s Secretariat of Public Health as its main partner and driver for recruitment of the network in the city. We’ve found that a strong relationship with local officials is very beneficial for developing the network.

So far, Cúcuta has been our star citizen network because the Contributors are highly engaged and motivated to use the App to its full potential. We are able to harness this enthusiasm by conducting UX research with our top Contributors and gaining valuable insights on both usability and trends in user personas for non-traditional networks.

Premise team – PM Daniela Rubio and Growth Analyst Jenny Shapiro with Cucuta’s Health Secretary of Health Judith Ortega, during the press conference.

During our visit, our Growth Analyst Jenny Shapiro and
CSS Claudia Abello were able to join our Contributors in the field for a day while they conducted house visits. This was a great opportunity to gather feedback and gain real-life insights on successes and key pain points in the everyday user journeys.

Growth Analyst Jenny Shapiro and CSS Claudia Abello with the Citizen Network

Santa Marta
Santa Marta was the third and last city selected to launch a Citizen Network Pilot. The authorities in Santa Marta expressed a high level of interest in partnering with Premise and starting a collaboration as soon as possible. Santa Marta, part of the Magdalena department, is a medium-sized city with a population of roughly 500,000. The Colombia National Institute of Health Zika virus disease reports the city has average Zika cases of 333.8-605 per 100k population (2017). For these reasons the city was selected as the third and last city to expand the Citizen Network Pilot and the implementation of the project started in late November of 2018.

“We have a public health team that monitors and controls vector-transmitted diseases.; We would like to have the human capability to monitor and control all of the city., Obviously we would need an army to be able to achieve it, but we can link the community through technology and the use of innovation for these issues., We are achieving important results in terms of community participation and the prevention of these diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.”

  • Julio Salas Burgos, Secretary, Santa Marta Department of Health


Community leaders and volunteers learning about the Premise App

To kick-off, the network Premise hosted an in-person training with both theoretical and practical components. During this initial training, community leaders learned about Premise and how to use the App, the risks of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and how through their contribution they can help fight the disease.

“Well, I think that Premise is a very important support for us as a city from the point of view of 
public health, since it is a very valuable information tool that will allow us to identify and reach places where we normally cannot reach. And what it is important is that it is a joint work with the community, that is, where we can empower leaders and the community itself (in addition to us, the health sector), so that they can be part of this process and we can identify and act upon the risk that a vector-transmitted diseases represent.”

  • Lisney Mendoa Brito, Director of Public Health, Santa Marta Department of Health

One of the key learnings from Cali and Cúcuta has been that a Contributor can be part of the network but not necessarily active. We define a Contributor as “active” when the person finishes at least one task per week. Therefore, we need a broader number of people in the network and more efficient engagement strategies to reach and maintain these goals. We estimate that it will take approximately four months (or less) to reach this goal.



While these days it may be largely out of international headlines, Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases remain a major concern for many in Colombia and around the world. Premise’s Zika Citizen Engagement Network, in partnership with USAID, empowers local citizens in high incidence areas to take prevention into their own hands while filling gaps in surveillance and providing valuable data to local governments.


The Premise team’s most recent trip to Colombia was a great opportunity to monitor the progress of our Citizen Engagement Networks in Cali and Cúcuta as well as launch our newest partnership with the Health Secretary of Santa Marta. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely our local partners and promote the incredible accomplishments of our current contributor base and are looking forward to continuing the growth in a new city!

To learn more about how Premise is helping with global development projects around the world and how we can help you deploy technology for your programs, visit or contact us at

About Daniela Rubio, Project Manager

Daniela: As a Project Manager for Premise, Daniela owns relationships with Premise clients and partners during the implementation of programs and projects. She works cross-functionally with different teams at Premise including growth, engineering and solutions to make sure all aspects of our projects run smoothly. She provides insights to the marketing team and supports the product and sales teams in customer discovery discussions with potential clients and partners. She has more than 10 years of global experience helping organizations and governments tackle complex problems with strategic thinking, partnership and cultural empathy.

Jenny: As a member of the Growth team, Jenny helps develop and maintain Contributor networks for our international development programs, with a special focus on Latin America. She works closely alongside Premise program managers and country support specialists to ensure that our clients get the carefully localized data they need, as well as ensuring the overall quality of Premise networks and the Contributor experience.