How IBM technology is helping fight Ebola in Africa

Wed, 2014-10-29 06:00 -- SCC Staff

Council Lead Partner IBM has launched a series of humanitarian efforts to help contain the spread of Ebola in Africa.  They include:

    • A citizen engagement and analytics system in Sierra Leone that enables communities affected by Ebola to communicate their issues and concerns directly to the government
    • A donation of IBM Connections technology in Nigeria to strengthen the Lagos State government’s preparedness for future disease outbreaks
    • A global platform for sharing Ebola-related open data

Combining expertise from IBM’s global network of research labs with its years of experience in humanitarian disaster response, the initiatives leverage mobile technology, data analytics and cloud computing to help governments and relief agencies as they seek to contain the deadly disease.

Citizen engagement is crucial

“For us to tackle Ebola, it is crucial to maintain an open dialogue between the government and the people of Sierra Leone,” said Khadija Sesay Director of Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative. “IBM has enhanced our work on citizen engagement through the use of innovative technology and opened up an effective communication channel with the general public so that we can learn from their input and create actionable policies in the fight against Ebola.”

IBM’s new Africa research lab, in collaboration with Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, has developed a system that enables citizens to report Ebola-related issues and concerns via SMS or voice calls. It provides actionable insight to the government about the day-to-day experiences of communities directly affected by Ebola to help improve its strategy for containing the disease.

For example, IBM says it has already brought to light specific regions with growing numbers of suspected Ebola cases which require urgent supplies like soap and electricity, as well as faster response times for body collection and burials. The system has also highlighted issues with the diagnosis of Ebola empowering the government to approach the international community to request more testing facilities and equipment.

“As Africa’s first technology research lab, we are uniquely positioned to use innovation to help tackle some of the continent’s biggest challenges,” said Dr. Uyi Stewart, Chief Scientist, IBM Research -- Africa. “We saw the need to quickly develop a system to enable communities directly affected by Ebola to provide valuable insight about how to fight it. Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government.”

IBM is currently looking to extend the work to analyze mobile phone signal data in order to monitor and track population movement enabling scientists to map and predict the spread of disease.

Facilitating coordination
Nigeria, which has taken a leadership position in the fight against Ebola, has recently been declared free of the disease. To support the country’s preparedness for future outbreaks, IBM donated its Connections cloud-based technology to Nigeria’s Lagos State Government which hosts an Ebola Operations Center that coordinates disease containment efforts on behalf of the Nigerian government and other organizations.

IBM has previously provided similar technology in other crisis situations around the world to support collaboration and coordination amongst response agencies. The Chilean Red Cross used the platform to establish a disaster command center following the 2010 Chile earthquake. It was also used by agencies in the U.S. following Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Ebola open data
Globally, IBM volunteers are leading a community effort to help identify, inventory and classify all open data sources related to the Ebola outbreak and are calling on organizations worldwide to contribute data.

The goal is to create a cloud-based Ebola Open Data Repository which will provide governments, aid agencies and researchers with free and open access to valuable open data related to Ebola.

"Data can be a powerful resource for managing and mitigating epidemics,” said Jeanne Holm, evangelist for Data.Gov. “Governments and other organizations have valuable open data that could help in relief efforts - about roads, airports, schools, medical facilities and populations. Such information can help to drive data-driven decisions during times of uncertainty."

Learn more about IBM in Africa >>

Public health and smart cities
What role can cities play in fighting the spread of deadly diseases and other public health emergencies?

The Council's Smart Cities Readiness Guide highlights how advances in information and communications technologies (ICT) are transforming the delivery of essential health services in powerful ways. Smart public health, for example, is about using ICT to improve outcomes for citizens and cities alike.

As in the work IBM is doing in Africa, cities and responsible government agencies can proactively receive health informa­tion directly from citizens, by encouraging them to share their health feedback and experiences through mobile apps. This data can then be analyzed to detect trends and potential problems – and to inform government decision-making – which might include anything from zoning laws to emission standards to mobilizing health providers to respond to an outbreak.

Download the Readiness Guide (free registration required) to read more about how ICT can improve the public's health and well-being.