IBM has launched a number of humanitarian initiatives to help communities contain Ebola outbreak.
As part of this, IBM has launched a citizen engagement and analytics system in Sierra Leone that enables communities affected by Ebola to communicate their issues and concerns directly to the government.
IBM also offered IBM Connections technology in Nigeria to strengthen the Lagos State government’s preparedness for future disease outbreaks.
Further the technology company has launched global platform for sharing Ebola-related open data.
For this, the company has partnered with a number of organizations including Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, Cambridge University’s Africa’s Voices project, Airtel and Kenya’s Echo Mobile.
The new research lab in Africa, developed in collaboration with Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, provides citizens with a system to report Ebola-related issues and concerns via SMS or voice calls so that authorities can learn and create actionable policies to fight Ebola.
Tapping supercomputing power and analytics capabilities via the cloud, the system is able to rapidly identify correlations and highlight emerging issues across the entire data set of messages. As the SMS and voice data are location specific, IBM is able to create opinion-based heat-maps which correlate public sentiment to location information.
For example, the system has already brought to light specific regions with growing numbers of suspected Ebola cases which require urgent supplies like soap and electricity, as well as faster response times for body collection and burials.It has also highlighted issues with the diagnosis of Ebola empowering the government to approach the international community to request more testing facilities and equipment.
“As Africa’s first technology research lab, we are uniquely positioned to use innovation to help tackle some of the continent’s biggest challenges,” said Dr. Uyi Stewart, chief scientist, IBM Research – Africa. “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. Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government.”
The system uses radio broadcasts to encourage people to get in touch and express their opinions. Cambridge University’s Africa’s Voices project has helped to develop a radio engagement model, incorporating questions into public service announcements to elicit feedback from citizens in both English and Krio – one of Sierra Leone’s most widely spoken languages.
Meanwhile telco operator Airtel has set up the toll-free number via which citizens are able to send SMS messages. The SMS data is anonymized by Kenyan start-up Echo mobile which specializes in leveraging basic mobile phones to give voice to underserved communities.
IBM is currently looking to extend the work to analyze mobile phone signal data in order to monitor and track population movement enabling scientists to map and predict the spread of disease.
Nigeria has taken a leadership position in the fight against Ebola and has recently been declared free of the disease. To support the country’s preparedness for future outbreaks, IBM has donated its Connections technology to Nigeria’s Lagos State Government.
IBM’s technology donation will help strengthen the coordination of public health emergency response teams and ensure that the Lagos State Government is able to manage and respond to any new reported cases of Ebola or future epidemics, IBM said.
IBM has previously provided similar technologies in other crisis situations including the SmartCloud to support the post-Haiti quake effort called Colleagues in Care, which helped doctors in Haiti learn from doctors in the US and elsewhere.
IBM is broadly offering access to its IBM Connections cloud-based platform to all government agencies and non-governmental organizations working to stem the spread of Ebola.
Globally, IBM volunteers are leading a community effort to help identify, inventory and classify all open data sources related to the Ebola outbreak and are calling on organizations worldwide to contribute data.
The goal 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 open data related to Ebola.
To support the work, IBM volunteers helped organize a recent Ebola Open Data brainstorming session in New York where members of the local tech community met with health experts and aid organizations to develop Open Data solutions to help tackle Ebola.