OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Learning about Zika by experiencing the causes and prevention in virtual reality

Prototyping an educational program about the causes and prevention of Zika with VR-based learning experiences

Photo of Jaoyi Ho
17 11

Written by


We created virtual reality prototypes that enable the public to experience and learn about the places that Zika-infected mosquitoes live as well as effective Zika prevention techniques. The virtual reality software generates a similar-to-real-world environment, increasing learning retention and emotional impact on the user.

Full description


WHO estimated that by the end of the year, 4 million people will be infected with Zika. With Zika spreading more widely and infecting more people around the world, it is crucial for our communities to take active roles in learning about the causes and protection techniques of Zika.

I am with a team of 6 people (CDC employee, engineers, community expert, UX specialist). Over the weekend of National Day of Civic Hacking hosted by Code for San Francisco, we took on the challenge of engaging communities in order to combat the Zika virus.

The team: Steve, Susan, Jaoyi, Jeremy, Niranjan, and Leonardo (not in the picture)  

Concept- helping communities learn about Zika by creating a vivid experience of the causes and prevention of Zika in virtual reality

After interviewing experts on the team and brainstorming, we settled on the idea that the most powerful way of engaging communities is to help them learn through a vivid experience. While it is difficult to create a Zika-mosquito-active environment for community members to explore and learn without exposing them to the risks, it is possible to create such environments in the virtual reality (VR) world.

The concept we prototyped is to generate VR experiences that are related to the causes and prevention of Zika, and we accomplished this with Google Cardboard. This is currently the most affordable VR platform at $15. We intend to place google cardboards at the airport, in the library, and in public spaces for people to experience in the generated VR world what it is like to be in environments where Zika mosquitoes are active, and what to do to prevent mosquito bites in Zika-active environments.  

Educating the community about Zika with VR-based learning experiences

Prototyping: VR experience of being in environments where Zika-infected mosquito are active

We created two sets of prototypes, focusing on ‘causes’ and ‘prevention’ separately. In our prototype focusing on ‘causes’, we created the VR experience of being in environments where Zika mosquitoes are active, such as construction sites, garage with old furniture and garbage, and standing water. We also made sure the experiences occurred in the morning, which is the time that the mosquitoes that carry Zika viruses are active.  We labeled the specific places in these environments where mosquitoes like to be in, and reminded people to avoid those places and to use prevention techniques.

This is a VR experience of a garden with garbages and old furniture. Places that Zika mosquitoes like to live are labeled fluorescent green. The audience are advised to avoid these places and use prevention techniques.

Prototyping: VR experience of using preventive techniques

In our prototype focusing on ‘prevention techniques’, we created the VR experience of sleeping under a bed net, looking out to the yard with screens on, and using mosquito sprays. We wanted to enable people to experience using prevention techniques visually, get them feel comfortable to the unfamiliar techniques, and eventually implement prevention techniques.

The VR experience of looking out from under the bednet.
The VR experience of looking into the backyard through a screen (left). Compared to the view through a window without a screen (right), the view through a window screen  is not distorted or blocked.

Next steps

We tested out our early prototypes at the event and received positive feedback about the idea. Our next steps include iterating on prototype development based on the feedback received, crowdsourcing images of Zika active environments, and testing our prototypes on-site

Here is a user experiencing our prototypes as part of our initial user testing. The flyer on the table explains that this prototype is about experiencing causes and prevention techniques of Zika.

Are you participating in the Partners in Health Campagin?

  • No

Do you plan to apply for USAID’s Grand Challenge for funding?

  • No


Join the conversation:

Photo of hopesuresh null

This is a great article. It gave me a lot of useful information. I use it every day to check my ranking and keep me focused on what I need to do. Thank you for making the honest effort to discuss this. I feel very strongly about it and want to learn more. It could be extremely useful and helpful for me and my friends.

Photo of Aman CSE

Thnx for sharing your valuable knowledge.<a href=""/>AWS Training in Chennai</a>

Photo of Upshot Tech

Thanks for sharing this useful information...

Photo of Orange technomind

Thanks for sharing

Photo of hopesuresh null

Thanks for your valuable information and i loved this kind of articles i really enjoyed on reading so i'am waiting for the next article from your side.....

Photo of Elegant Naval

Great Post. It was good experience thanks for sharing this with us. Keep updating

Photo of Jerry Amin

My mouth is full of testimonies, my girlfriend left for two years to Canada for a tourist, where she meant one bad ass and she was bewitch by the guy so surprisingly my girlfriend refuse to come back home again, i cry day and night looking for who to help me, i read a news paper about a powerful spell caster called Dr Otoide and i contacted the spell caster to help me get my lover back to me and he ask me not to worry about it that the gods we fight for me.. he told me by mid-night when all the spirit is at rest he will cast a spell to reunite my lover back to me. and he did in less than 2 days my girlfriend came back to me and started crying that i should for forgive her, I'm so happy for what this spell caster did for me and my girlfriend. Dr Otoide is a genuine Dr contact him on his or his web: or his Mobile:+27735364772.

Photo of Julie David

Thanks for sharing with us of in-depth concepts about virtual reality. Its give more information and also awareness. Keep update. want to learn software testing with best placement support enroll @

Photo of Melba Henry

Thank you for taking the time to provide us with your valuable information. Keep sharing.

Photo of James

I would love to try it myself. I like experiencing new things!

Photo of Dhiya Chander

Really nice content you had posted here. Thank you for sharing and please keep update like this.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on being selected for the Highlights phase!

Photo of Jaoyi Ho

Thank you all for evaluating ! We are excited to participate in the highlights phase ! :D 

Photo of Minh Nguyen

YES! Thanks Jaoyi Ho for your contribution. Are you all planning on evolving this idea more broadly for these 'real-life' experiences via VR? I think it can provide that lived experience that might help researchers, designers, and inventors empathize to build better solutions.

Photo of Jaoyi Ho

Thanks for the message, Minh Nguyen . It is true that VR could open doors for so many different fields! We have talked about new ideas that we might work on in the future. But as for now, we will focus on iterating the VR experiences for Zika causes and prevention. Feel free to message me to find out more, or share your thoughts and feedback here. We are open to input and ideas :) 

Photo of Christi O&amp;#039;Neill

Hi Jaoyi Ho ,

This is great!
The way you and your team have applied the concept of experiential learning through virtual reality to people traveling at the airport (and other locations as well of course), provides an exciting way to become educated/inspired. I think a great value add here is that it pulls the risk out of the learning- you do not need to be standing in that garden to see the locations to clean or avoid in the future.

I wonder how you may measure the impact of the learning? Data grabs from computer based gamification? Simple likert learning scale? Or even simple paper qualitative captures?

Great share! I look forward to seeing what's next here!

Following is a link that reminded me of your work that the UN has done:
"Virtual reality, fundamentally, is a technology that removes borders," he (Chris Milk) says. "Anything can be local to you." 

Photo of Jaoyi Ho

Hey Christi O'Neill , thanks for the comment and feedback ! I like how you explain it in such a clear way and link it to the concept of 'experiential learning' !

In terms of measurement, we did a combination of qualitative evaluation and short interview. We first decided on a few key questions that we wanted to answer (e.g. what would users learn from this VR experience?) And then we formed a testing plan that includes asking users to think aloud as they performed the task, as well as answering a couple questions in the beginning and in the end.

Good point on Likert scale. We will include that in our next round of testing.  

It is true that there is so much potential with VR. We will continue working on the project at the weekly meetup hosted by Code for San Francisco. Let us know if you have other feedback, or know people who might be interested in joining us :)