IBM launches new tracking system to help contain Ebola outbreak in Africa

27 October 2014 (Last Updated October 27th, 2014 18:30)

IBM has launched several humanitarian initiatives in Sierra Leone, as part of the fight against the deadly disease Ebola in West Africa.

Sierra Leone

IBM has launched several humanitarian initiatives in Sierra Leone, as part of the fight against the deadly disease Ebola in West Africa.

In collaboration with Sierra Leone's Open Government Initiative, IBM's new research lab in Africa developed an engagement and analytics system, allowing citizens to report Ebola-related issues via SMS or voice calls directly to government, health agencies and others to keep track of the disease.

The system provides insight for the government about the day-to-day experiences of communities directly affected by Ebola to help improve its strategy for containing the disease.

Other initiatives launched by the company include: a donation of IBM Connections technology in Nigeria to strengthen the Lagos State government's preparedness for future disease outbreaks and a global platform for sharing Ebola-related open data.

These initiatives are supported by contributions from Cambridge University's Africa's Voices project, Airtel and Kenya's Echo Mobile.

Sierra Leone's Open Government Initiative director Khadija Sesay said: "For us to tackle Ebola, it is crucial to maintain an open dialogue between the government and the people of Sierra Leone.

"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."

With its supercomputing power and analytics capabilities, the system can rapidly identify correlations and highlight emerging issues across the entire data set of messages through the cloud.

The tech firm claimed it can create opinion-based heat maps, which correlate public sentiment to location information, as the SMS and voice data are location specific.

IBM Research Africa chief scientist Dr Uyi Stewart said: "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.

"The system provides insight for the government about the day-to-day experiences of communities directly affected by Ebola to help improve its strategy for containing the disease."

"Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government."

Radio broadcasts are being used to encourage people to use the system and Airtel has set up a toll-free number through which citizens are able to send SMS messages.

Airtel Sierra Leone managing director Sudipto Chowdhury said: "Mobile technology is Africa's most powerful communications platform providing an important channel for reaching large numbers of the population.

"As one of Africa's leading mobile operators, we will do everything we can to ensure that mobile technology contributes to tackling the spread of Ebola and, we are partnering with IBM to ensure the effective flow of information between the government and the citizens of Sierra Leone."


Image: Working with the Sierra Leone Government, IBM is producing heat maps showing Ebola-related issues reported by the citizens of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo: courtesy of IBM/ PRNewswire.