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A heat map showing the size and nature of Ebola-related activity as reported by citizens

A heat map showing the size and nature of Ebola-related activity as reported by citizens

IBM, working in conjunction with a number of organisations, is using a combination of mobile, cloud and analytics platforms to help Sierra Leone and Nigeria’s public health authorities contain Ebola outbreaks and help coordinate disaster relief efforts in the region.

The partners, which include Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, Cambridge University’s Africa’s Voices project, Airtel and Kenya’s Echo Mobile, are deploying a platform that enables citizens to report Ebola-related issues via SMS.

Those messages are collected along with location-based data and fed into an IBM Connections-based platform that provides insight to governments about the disease’s spread, helping public health authorities identify correlations in the data and emerging outbreaks as they happen in real time.

The platform aims to help emergency workers coordinate and allocate medical resources to areas in need of Ebola-related relief.

“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,” said Dr. Uyi Stewart, chief scientist, IBM Research – Africa. Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government.”

IBM developed the cloud and analytics platform underpinning the service along with Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative. Local telco Airtel has set up the toll-free number via which citizens can send SMS messages, while Kenyan start-up Echo Mobile anonymises the SMS data.

Cambridge University’s Africa’s Voices project helped incorporate questions sent via SMS into public service announcements to elicit feedback from citizens in both English and Krio.

According to IBM the organisations are working to extend the platform’s capabilities by incorporating phone signal data to track footfall, enabling scientists to map and accurately predict the disease’s spread.

IBM said it’s already opened up the IBM Connections platform to Nigeria’s Lagos State Government, which hosts an Ebola Operations Centre that coordinates disease containment efforts on behalf of the Nigerian government and other organisations.

The goal, IBM said, is to create a cloud-based Ebola Open Data Repository which will provide governments, aid agencies and researchers with free and open access to valuable data related to the Ebola outbreak.

This isn’t the first time IBM has coordinated technology deployments in a bid to support disaster relief initiatives. The company granted access to its SmartCloud platform to support both post-Haiti and Chile quake efforts in 2010.

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