fight_ebolaThe Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues remains a major public health concern worldwide. In the face of this tragedy, technology provides great hope in managing the disease and providing aid to individuals and healthcare providers. Many technologies are on the forefront of fighting disaster, but the most valuable tool to fight Ebola is probably in your pocket.

Africa has experienced a boom in cell phone ownership in recent years, which has extended to West Africa. As a result, cell phones are providing patients and families of patients with services such as ebola hotlines. Cell phones also allow health workers to be paid electronically, allow clinics to flag when they’re low on supplies and allow individuals to resolve rumors of ebola by texting local radio stations.

Eric King, an innovation specialist who worked with USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team in Liberia, said, “among the technological tools that have amplified the Ebola response, arguably none has been more helpful than the mobile phone.”

And it’s not just helpful for individuals. Cell phone companies collect “call data records,” which manage caller identity and the time of the call, along with being able to identify the customer’s location. These records, held by CDRs, are highly valuable to epidemiologists.

But cell phones have been most valuable in fighting Ebola in the hands of health care workers. The mHero program uses information to bring together people making a difference in coordinating a response to this crisis.

The mHero program brings cell phones together with many services. These services include the iHRIS program, a human resource tracking service used within the health sector of 19 countries, along with UNICEF’s SMS platform and information sharing systems such as OpenHIE and DHIS 2.

The mHero programs bring all of this together to allow key text messages to be sent to heath workers internationally, even in remote areas where there is traditionally less access to cell phone service. Having access to this large database of information allows for messages to be targeted to health workers in relevant locations.

According to intrahealth, mHero is also useful to government officials, who can use it to conduct monitoring processes along with data analysis and surveys. The service, which launched in Liberia in September, represents perhaps a major victory in the fight against Ebola.

Information is power. Cell phones are an accessible technology which provide people worldwide with information. It should be no surprise, then, that cell phones are an incredible source of power in responding to the Ebola crisis.

Andrew Michaels

Sources: Intrahealth, Harvard, The Economist, USAID
Photo: Empower Magazine

fight ebola
With the current Ebola outbreak, it is no wonder people are in a rush to help fight the treacherous disease. Although no known cure has been found, there are preventive measures one can take to halt its transmission.

Ebola is often transferred to humans from wild animals and can spread in the population through human-to-human contact with bodily fluids. Fruit bats are common vectors that transfer Ebola to humans through contact with blood, sweat and secretions.

Further, health workers are at great risk of contracting the disease when they treat patients with Ebola without proper protective gear. The average case fatality rate is at about 50 percent, but past outbreaks have had an average fatality rate of 90 percent. In 1976, the first outbreaks of the disease were recorded in the outskirts of Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ebola has since moved on to urban and rural areas of West Africa, as we are witnessing currently.

But how can we help fight Ebola? The World Health Organization claims that community participation is key in controlling outbreaks. There needs to be clear interventions set in case of rapid progression throughout the country, such as case management and surveillance, an adequate laboratory and effective burial methods.

Health care providers that are in close contact with the virus should wear gloves, masks and goggles, in turn diminishing chances of infection. In addition, people should stay clear of highly infected areas or restrict travel to countries with high prevalence of Ebola.

Since symptoms can take up to three weeks to manifest, it is crucial that people are aware of the risk factors for infection. Interaction with wildlife increases one’s chance of infection, and so to help fight Ebola, limit contact and always wear gloves and masks if working with animals. Also, if living in high-risk areas in Africa, make sure meat is cooked properly and thoroughly before consumption. Furthermore, when coming in contact with patients with Ebola, wash hands regularly. This includes contact with the living and the deceased. Thus proper and safe burial is essential for affected persons.

As the recent cases of health care workers in Dallas demonstrate, strict infection control measures and following protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must be followed to help fight Ebola. Community engagement and education is also key in successfully controlling the outbreak. While an approved vaccine does not yet exist, the virus can be contained through protective measures that can effectively reduce human transmission.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: WHO, NLM
Photo: Flickr