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EbolaUsing data to fight Ebola
The current Ebola outbreak is the largest in recorded history, claiming more victims than all previous twenty major outbreaks combined since Ebola was discovered in 1976. Governments and the private sector are using the latest data technology to process, store, and analyze information and communication records from Ebola-stricken countries to help locate and predict the spread of the disease.
The current Ebola outbreak is the largest in recorded history, having roughly 9,000 cases in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Nigeria, Spain, and the United States. It has claimed more victims than all previous twenty major outbreaks combined since Ebola was discovered in 1976. Previous outbreaks occurred in isolated villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, making them relatively easy to contain. The West African outbreak, however, has crossed the barriers of isolation and infected populations in both the countryside and cities. Furthermore, it has crossed international borders, requiring a global task force to track the movements of infected individuals and the people they may come in contact with. NextGov reports that governments and the private sector are using the latest data technology to process, store, and analyze information and communication records from Ebola-stricken countries to help locate and predict the spread of the disease.
In Sierra Leone, where Ebola has killed over 4,912 according to the World Health Organization, IBM’s Africa research lab in Kenya and Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, a program meant to facilitate dialogue between citizens and government, have created a system that enables residents to report their Ebola concerns directly to the federal government via their mobile phones. With the power of supercomputing and cloud-based analytics, the government can search the entire data set of messages to identify unseen issues, patterns, and emerging needs. “For us to tackle Ebola, it is crucial to maintain an open dialogue between the government and the people of Sierra Leone,” Khadija Sesay, director the Open Government Initiative, said in a statement. “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.” Medical Daily reports that the program has already proven to be effective. In one case, it identified an increasing number of Ebola cases in a region lacking soap and electricity, and requiring support with body collection and burials. “If we can map all the data, we can figure out what needs to be done and who we need to partner with to get it done,” writes Osamuyimen Stewart, head of IBM Research’s Africa Lab, in a blog post. Stewart notes that the system also allows people to call in their concerns, since roughly 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans are illiterate.
In Nigeria, where Ebola has been declared eradicated, IBM teamed up with the Lagos State Government to set up an Ebola Operations Center to coordinate disease containment efforts. IBM provided a digital platform for health officials to communicate and share documents. The information and records collected throughout the global Ebola outbreak will be available in the cloud so authorities may access it for review and insight during future disease outbreaks. U.S. agencies used a similar platform in 2012, following Hurricane Sandy.
To help health officials predict and react to where Ebola will appear next, IBM has volunteers around Africa identifying, cataloging, and classifying all open data sources related to the Ebola outbreak. The company has created a cloud-based Ebola Open Data Repository, to provide governments, aid agencies, and researchers free access to data related to the disease. “Data can be a powerful resource for managing and mitigating epidemics,” Jeanne Holm, evangelist for Data.gov, said in a statement. “Governments and other organizations have valuable open data that could help in relief efforts — about roads, airports, schools, medical facilities, and populations.”