West Africa Looks To Mobile Technology To Help Stop Ebola Epidemic

Written by Kevin Mwanza

From News.co.au

IT’S already claimed 518 lives as it spreads unchecked across Africa, but could something as simple as a mobile phone be the key to stopping the Ebola epidemic?

The World Health Organisation has been struggling to contain the epidemic, which has spread from Guinea to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At an emergency meeting in Ghana last week, 11 health ministers from West African nations agreed on a simple, yet hopefully effective, plan to combat the deadly blood-borne virus.

It relies on countering misinformation, strengthening health teams and using simple technology to track the outbreak.

Mobile phones are ubiquitous in Africa, and now health authorities want to harness the technology to prevent the further spread of Ebola.

Running rampant … Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff dress in protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, where people infected with the Ebola virus are being treated. Picture: Cellou Binani Source: AFP

Swamped doctors in Sierra Leone this week made a desperate plea, via a piece in The Lancet, for authorities to use phones to inform the public.

“Open-source software programmes that receive and send bulk SMS messages can be used for communication with populations and peripheral health centres,” they wrote.

“Digitalised maps can be created with available satellite images, and distinctions between residential and unoccupied buildings can be added to an open-source geographic information system (GIS) to improve the accuracy of case mapping.

“Emerging technologies can help early warning systems, outbreak response, and communication between health-care providers, wildlife and veterinary professionals, local and national health authorities, and international health agencies.”

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