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Sierra Leone pushes ITU members to back tech against Ebola

Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji | Nov. 10, 2014
Spurred by Sierra Leone, the U.N.'s ITU has teamed up with the GSM Association, the World Health Organization, and the Internet Society, committing resources to a worldwide effort to develop technology tools to help stop the spread of Ebola.

Spurred by Sierra Leone, the U.N.'s ITU has teamed up with the GSM Association, the World Health Organization, and the Internet Society, committing resources to a worldwide effort to develop technology tools to help stop the spread of Ebola.

"We have the technology," said ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure in prepared remarks at the International Telecommunications Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Korea. "We have the information -- but in a world in which everybody is talking about big data, we still haven't been able to set up the right mechanisms to accelerate the distribution and utilization of realtime information when it is mostly needed."

The ITU formalized its commitment to technology in a resolution proposed this week by Sierra Leone, one of the countries hit hardest by the Ebola virus in what has become in a matter of months the worst epidemic of the disease in history.

Sierra Leone proposed that the ITU identify communications infrastructure needed for the timely exchange of information on Ebola virus transmission and collaborate with organizations, particularly WHO, to combat its spread. The resulting ITU resolution, with the overwhelming endorsement of member countries including the U.S., Canada, Russia, the UAE, U.K. and Japan, offers assistance and support to consumers, humanitarian organizations and industry to develop technology to fight Ebola.

Japan immediately responded to the proposal, offering 180,000 Swiss francs (US$187,000) to develop a mobile application for smart phones that can provide crucial information for the prevention of the spread of Ebola diseases, as well as other effective measures.

More than 13,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and more than 4,800 have died, mostly in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to WHO.

The ITU has already tapped technology to help battle Ebola, according to Cosmas Zavazava, the chief of the Project Support and Knowledge Management group at the U.N. organization's Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT).

"ITU has deployed satellite terminals to be used in remote areas where there is no fixed or mobile-cellular coverage," Zavazava said in email.

The ITU has also focused on developing various apps, Zavazava added. The apps have been designed to provide a means of communication for government agencies to disseminate information to the public, and can be used for early warning, Zavazava said. "Victims could also contact government agencies, their families, etc. The apps could also help in big data analysis for decision making," he said.

The use of apps and various forms of messaging are efficient uses of technology partly because of their ability to connect a large number of the growing mobile phone users in the affected areas.

Apps are increasing awareness of the disease worldwide as they provide updates on what is happening in Sierra Leone and other affected countries, said Al Turay, the developer of the Sierra Leone Ebola Trends app.

 

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