By Adeyemi Adepetun
As the human toll of the Ebola epidemic continues to climb up in critically affected West African nations, IBM has launched several initiatives to help curb the spread of the viral disease in the sub-region.
These initiatives 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 reinforce government's preparedness for future disease outbreaks; and a global platform for sharing Ebola-related data.
The efforts combine expertise from IBM's global network of research labs with the company's years of experience in humanitarian disaster response by applying mobile technology, data analytics and cloud computing to help governments and relief agencies as they seek to contain the deadly disease.
The work benefits from contributions from a number of partners including Nigeria's Federal and Lagos State authorities, Sierra Leone's Open Government Initiative, Cambridge University's Africa's Voices project, Airtel and Kenya's Echo Mobile.
Technology that facilitates coordination Nigeria has taken a leadership position in the fight against Ebola and has recently been declared free of the disease. To support the country's preparedness for future outbreaks, IBM has donated its Connections technology to Nigeria's Lagos State Government.
Nigeria's Lagos State Government hosts an Ebola Operations Center that coordinates disease containment efforts on behalf of the Nigerian government and other organizations. IBM's technology donation will help strengthen the coordination of public health emergency response teams and ensure that the Lagos State Government is able to manage and respond to any new reported cases of Ebola or future epidemics.
Lagos State Commissioner for Science and Technology, Adebiyi Mabadeje said that governments should constantly aim for proactive delivery of social services to citizens and by leveraging on technology, improved governance and better management of resources and assets can be achieved.
"IBM's SmartCloud grant to the Lagos State Government is a unique contribution that will enhance our capacity to respond to and better manage emergencies with deeper insights and know-how", he stated.
IBM's Connections technology has a proven track record in humanitarian disaster response situations. It provides health workers and administrators with a reliable and secure digital platform to work together virtually and in person, enabling them to securely share documents, identify experts, exchange video, chat and audio messages, provide updates, tap into information via mobile devices and hold virtual meetings. Storing information securely and conveniently in the digital cloud means that authorized users anywhere can access vital information.
The firm informed that its 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 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."
Tapping supercomputing power and analytics capabilities via the cloud, the system is able to rapidly identify correlations and highlight emerging issues across the entire data set of messages.
As the SMS and voice data are location specific, IBM is able to create opinion-based heat-maps, which correlate public sentiment to location information.
For example, 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.
According to Chief Scientist, IBM Research - Africa, Uyi Stewart, "As Africa's first technology research lab, we are uniquely positioned to use innovation to help tackle some of the continent's biggest challenges. 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."