iPhone update to include emoji touted by public health experts

Jessica Kim Cohen - Print  | 

Apple released a preview of more than 70 new emoji — including a mosquito, an addition proposed by public health experts in mid-2017 — as part of a publicity push for its iOS 12.1 software update.

In June 2017, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs in Baltimore and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle teamed up to submit a proposal to the Unicode Consortium, arguing a mosquito emoji would improve public health dialogue across the globe. The Unicode Consortium — a nonprofit based in Mountain View, Calif. — is the corporation tasked with developing international software standards for various characters, including emoji. Each year, the consortium adds only a limited number of new emoji.

Mosquitoes, which spread diseases like malaria, Zika and the dengue virus, contribute to millions of deaths each year. In the proposal, Marla Shaivitz, director of digital strategy at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, and Jeff Chertack, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said a mosquito emoji would support public health campaigns and research efforts.

"It would give health professionals a quick way to communicate with the public about the presence of mosquitoes, and allow researchers to promote their work around mosquito-borne diseases more easily via social media," the proposal read. "The mosquito could stand in for public health alerts, alert to community spraying or the distribution of prevention tools."

Now, the mosquito will join the emoji available on Apple's products alongside the 70-plus other new characters, which represent a range of animals, sports and food.

"Having a mosquito emoji gives public health practitioners a new tool to use when communicating about mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases," Ms. Shaivitz said in a statement to Becker's Hospital Review. "We can use the emoji in social media posts or in WhatsApp messages or texts about malaria, Zika and more to clarify and amplify messages, using a symbol people recognize no matter the language they speak."

"It's already working, even before it's widely available, because we are talking about the dangers associated with mosquitoes right now," she added.

Apple launched developer and public beta previews of iOS 12.1 on Oct. 2, and said the software will be publicly available in upcoming updates for the company's smartphones, tablets and laptops.

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