I remember a conversation with a dear friend from Sierra Leone back in May about the growing impact of Ebola in his country. I remember him saying that it was already far more widespread than was being reported. I remember sharing this information with many people that I met at that time. I regret that I only started Tweeting about the seriousness of what was happening in West Africa on June 27th. However, I have been Tweeting ever since, and have become increasingly appalled about the tardiness of the international response. If appropriate action had been taken in May and June, if appropriate support had been given to the affected countries at that time, and if appropriate care had been given to communities and individuals affected, then I have absolutely no doubt that thousands of lives could have been saved across the world.
It is simply not good enough to say that we should be concentrating on practical action now rather than laying blame and being critical of the response to date – although there are some really very bizarre things currently being said in the mainstream and social media. The most important outcome of the current crisis has to be an investigation of why so many organisations and individuals failed to take notice of all of the early signs, and failed to act to prevent the spread of the virus. I feel so sick that attention is only really being directed to dealing with the disease now that people are dying of it in Europe and North America. Undoubtedly, in the longer term, it is also essential that we all help build capacity in the health systems of poor countries so as to enable them to respond more effectively and swiftly to the outbreak of such diseases in the future.
In an effort to bring together some of the disparate information about ways through which ICTs can be used effectively to counter the spread of Ebola, I raised this issue among members of the ICT4D group on Facebook. Surprisingly, there was not an overwhelmoing response. Hence, I have tried to pull together some of the most interesting ongoing work, in the hope that it can be used as swiftly as possible to make a difference to the lives of people who are already affected and those who will become affected in the weeks and months ahead. It is great to see that some other organisations such as Telecentre.org and TechChange have also started to do this. Many, many poor people will die of Ebola before we get it under control collectively. We must never make the same mistakes again.
Communicating accurate and relevant materials to affected individuals and communities
It is critically important that people know how to respond swiftly and appropriately when a case of Ebola is identified in their communities. In the absence of an appropriate vaccine or cure, it is absolutely essential that early diagnosis and quarantine takes place. Changing cultural behaviours, especially surrounding the emotionally very distressing experience of death from Ebola, is extremely difficult, but if the rapid increase in cases is to be reduced, then this is absolutely essential. The use of ICTs, in the form of radio broadcasts, television messages, videos and text information in local languages through the Internet and on mobile ‘phones can therefore play a very helpful role. People can also use mobile devices to report where and when outbreaks occur, so that medical staff can respond more quickly. At last, some useful resources are being developed:
Communicating with sick relatives without touching them
Mobile ‘phones are excellent devices for communicating at a distance. Whilst being very afraid of Ebola, family members want to communicate with their sick relatives – at a distance, without touching them. Hence, the use of mobile devices can provide a really valuable and reassuring mechanism through which family members can communicate, when one or more of them are in isolation wards or quarantine locations. Very simply, if sick people could be given mobile devices to communicate with their loved ones, then some of the pain and anguish could be alleviated.
Mapping the spread of the disease
ICTs can be used very effectively to map the spread of Ebola, so that medical administrators can respond more quickly. As noted above, mobile devices can also be used to inform medical staff when a new case is identified. Crowd-sourcing (such as Ushahidi) could be used effectively to develop such response maps, although we must recognise that many people are very afraid of reporting that a friend or relative may have Ebola.
Information networks for professionals and others dealing with Ebola
A growing amount of information is now available for professionals and those dealing with Ebola and so only a limited amount is noted below:
Funding and crowd-sourcing for resourcing support for Ebola victims and research on the disease
There is an enormous need for funding to support health workers in affected countries, not least by providing enough protective clothing. Much work could be done on this, but there are few examples available.
Overall, this page is just a starting point. PLEASE respond and add information to it so that we can all use ICTs more effectively for tackling this outbreak of Ebola which could easily have been curtailed if only we had acted together sooner.