IBM Contributes Tech To Help Contain Ebola

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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IBM has provided technology to the Nigerian and Sierra Leone governments to help coordinate response efforts and communicate with the public

IBM has made several contributions to the efforts to contain the Ebola virus, including communications and data analysis systems and a platform for sharing information about the disease.

The measures include a system intended to help Sierra Leone’s government receive and analyse communications from the public about Ebola-related issues via SMS or voice calls.

ebola malware

Public feedback

A partnership between IBM’s recently established Africa research lab and Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, the system allows citizens to communicate their concerns via voice calls or toll-free SMS messages, with a supercomputer-powered, cloud-based analytics system enabling the government to create maps that identify correlations and highlight emerging issues across the entire data set of messages.

The system includes a programme of radio broadcasts, developed by Cambridge University’s Africa’s Voices project, to urge people to get in touch in English or Krio, one of the country’s most widely spoken languages. The platform has helped the government coordinate the supply of materials such as soap and electricity, as well as improve response times for body collection and burials, as well as identifying diagnosis problems, IBM said.

“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,” stated Khadija Sesay, director of the Open Government Initiative.

Response team coordination in Nigeria

IBM has also donated technology to the Nigerian government’s Ebola Operations Centre to help strengthen the coordination of public health emergency response teams and help manage any future outbreaks of Ebola in Nigeria, which was recently declared free of the disease.

The Connections technology, which has already been used in post-disaster situations in Haiti, Chile and Colorado, provides a secure platform for sharing documents, identifying experts, exchanging video, chat and audio messages and holding virtual meetings, IBM said. Data is stored in the cloud, making it accessible from any location.

Health workers in Nigeria are also utilising an Android smartphone app to help to reduce the time it takes to report the onset of symptoms with suspected patients, according to reports earlier this month. The Android app, provided to the Nigerian health workers by eHealth & Information Systems Nigeria, helped reduce disease reporting times.

Open data

IBM said it is additionally supporting an effort to identify, inventory and classify all open data sources related to the Ebola outbreak, with the goal of establishing a cloud-based Ebola Open Data Repository with information from governments, aid agencies and researchers. IBM said it recently organised an Ebola Open Data planning session in New York including health experts, aid organisations and technology experts.

Last week researchers warned that cybercriminals are playing on the public’s fears over Ebola by sending out malware-ridden emails disguised as health tips. The criminals are sending out emails purporting to be from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and containing information on how to protect yourself from Ebola. However if a user opens an attachment with the email, their computer will be infected with malware.

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