As part of the ongoing battle against Ebola, IBM has launched a new system to help identify locations where the disease is taking hold, enabling aid organizations and governments to more effectively track the virus and target areas in need of health care workers and medical supplies.
IBM’s experience in data analytics, mobile technology and cloud computing is being put to use first in Sierra Leone, one of the countries in West Africa hit hardest by the current Ebola outbreak.
The system, part of IBM’s new Africa research laboratory, involves citizens reporting any suspected outbreaks of Ebola – or related concerns – via SMS message or voice calls, with the location-specific data used to track the spread of the disease as well as highlight emerging issues.
The crowdsourced data, which is transformed into opinion-based heat-maps, enables relief agencies to organize more efficient delivery of urgent supplies such as soap and electricity. Faster response times for body collection and burials has also been made possible with the new system. According to IBM, its new initiative, and the data it provides, is “empowering the government to approach the international community to request more testing facilities and equipment.”
One of the biggest challenges is getting citizens to report cases and concerns, with the Sierra Leone government using radio broadcasts to encourage people to use the system.
“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,” Dr. Uyi Stewart, chief scientist of IBM Research Africa, said in a release. “Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government.”
Khadija Sesay, director of Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, said it was crucial to maintain an open dialog between the government and the people of Sierra Leone in order to beat Ebola. “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,” Sesay said.