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The Battle Against Ebola: Combating Illness with Technology

The Battle Against Ebola: Combating Illness with Technology
August 1, 2014 Niama Sandy

Africa is fighting Ebola not just with policy and humanitarian aid but also with accessible technology and social media. From the #FactsOnEbola hashtag to the international call to action issued by doctors in Sierra Leone, Africans have banded together and raised their voices to combat the spread of the disease using various forms of technology.

Since December 2013, Ebola has been wrecking havoc in areas of West Africa. Although past reports have pointed to the outbreak being localized to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, West African countries are all remaining vigilant on the fights against the disease. In early July, 11 health ministers from West African countries met in Ghana and agreed “to increase cross-border cooperation and coordination in affected countries” and also established a regional control center in Guinea.

In their appeal in The Lancet, a widely read and respected publication for medical professionals, the frustrated medical researchers based in Sierra Leone demanded that governments and public health agencies around the world begin using mobile technology that is widely available on the Continent to prevent more loss of life from the highly contagious illness.

“Emerging technologies can help early warning systems, outbreak response, and communication between health-care providers, wildlife and veterinary professionals, local and national health authorities, and international health agencies,” the team explained.

The doctors advocated the use of open-source software applications that receive and send bulk SMS messages to communicate with local health centres, and to ensure uninfected citizens remain healthy & informed.

The medical researchers also called for the use of digitized maps with territory culled from satellite images for case mapping.

Mapping has been shown to be an effective tool in the fight against Ebola. Already in Guinea back in April, Medecins sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) partnered with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), a digital mapping organization, to build a map of Guéckédou, a city of around 250,000 people in southern Guinea, where an outbreak was believe to be concentrated.

At the time MSF made the request there were only two roads on their digital map. In less than 12 hours, with the help of volunteers from around the world, the digital map of Guéckédou grew to include 100,000 buildings – including two other nearby villages – based on satellite imagery of the area. The MSF team was able to begin using the map immediately to attempt to pinpoint the origin of infected persons, investigate rumored infection sites and navigate through unfamiliar areas.

HOT-map-rezie

A map of the progress made from the HOT mapping of Guéckédou



As the research team in Sierra Leone wrote, this outbreak “serves as a call to ensure access to needed diagnostic technologies and health-care resources, to accelerate the implementation of smartphone-based health applications in developing countries, and to improve regional and global surveillance and health communication.”

We only hope that this will happen sooner than later!


Social Media

The hashtags “FactsOnEbola” and “EbolaFacts” have become a trending topics in West Africa as more and more persons are using social media to raise awareness of the illness and share information within their virtual communities.

“I started #FactsOnEbola this morning after having a conversation about the disease with friends,” says Japheth Omojuwa, a Nigerian blogger with over 100,000 Twitter followers. “I have a civic responsibility to serve the public – my followers and my country,” he told BBC Trending.

ebola-hashtag

In Ghana, #EbolaFacts was began by Accra-based radio station 97.3 Citi FM.

Nana  Boakye-Yiadom, a journalist representing the station told the BBC, “the question everybody here is asking is ‘What if it comes?’ We are not prepared.”

And so the “EbolaFacts” hashtag was born.

“We have a huge following online and the perceptions on the street of Ebola are wrong. By tweeting out information we got the hashtag trending and people can now see the information around the disease.”

ghana-ebola-tweet

Fellow 97.3 CitiFM staff member Mawuli Tsikata, who devised the campaign for the radio station said there isn’t enough education about Ebola and the situation on the ground is frightening. “Ghanaians are big on social media and so we tapped into that. It’s our role to educate the public,” he says.

Even in the face of trials, Africa continues to shows its brilliance and resilient spirit! Please everyone be safe!

Featured Photo: Cellou Binani Source: AFP

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