The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is increasingly becoming an international crisis. Recently the World Health Organization counted 5,843 cases of Ebola patients and 2,811 deaths. Even more tragic, the number deaths occurring outside hospitals are not usually recorded, meaning the numbers could actually be significantly higher. The CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) predicts there if we don’t do anything to stop Ebola in its tracks, the world will have 1.4 million cases before we hit February 2015.
How does this Ebola outbreak compare to others in the past?
So what can the ICT community do? ICTs (Information and Communications Technology) have already made drastic positive differences to healthcare workers around the world, and defeating the Ebola crisis should be no different. Here are four ways aid workers should embrace ICTs to make a bigger impact:
- More drones should be used to airlift medicine and supplies. Since aid organizations are continuously crossing borders and healthcare workers don’t always have proper equipment to keep themselves safe, a flying drone can prove useful to send medical supplies to remote locations. It would act as a simple way to either stop or slow down the spread of the Ebola virus. Drones would in no way replace doctors, but they could provide a safer alternative than people travelling to dangerous areas just to deliver materials.
- A 24-hour helpline of doctors should be readily available by Skype, Google Hangout, or video chat. Online video calls would be able to provide consistent and accurate medical information to those living in rural areas. They would also decrease the need for doctors to be on the ground all the time. Finally, residents living in rural areas would be able to report cases more quickly, therefore allowing the WHO and other organizations to collect more accurate numbers on the outbreak.
- Apps providing correct information on Ebola should be offered to localcommunity leaders. Fear and cultural insensitivity sometimes deny international aid workers access to areas where often their help is most needed. The answer? Provide local community leaders the same information via apps so they can share it with their own neighbors and friends. This can be done easily on any mobile device, and the apps should be made in or translated into local languages and dialects. In addition, the articles, content, and news stories on the app should be updated nearly every day, making the latest news and information available to entire communities.
- Access to social media will help sensitize others to the seriousness of this outbreak. So many west Africans enjoy Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and other social networking sites. These social media tools should be put to work since users are already enjoying those platforms. As one writer puts it, “Using modern day technology to sensitize the public on the virus, its prevention and particularly the importance of early intervention could be key in preventing the continuation of deaths in high numbers.”
ICTs can make a profound impact on scaling back the devastating effect that Ebola has had on Sierra Leone and other parts of western Africa. It’s time to nail down the best strategies to save precious lives around the world.