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IBM battles Ebola outbreak with data analytics

28/10/2014 by


IBM IS HELPING to contain the Ebola outbreak with tracking software that acts as a platform for sharing information about the disease.

Backed by supercomputer-powered, cloud-based software, IBM's communications and data analysis system allows African citizens to communicate their concerns and report cases of the virus with voice calls or toll-free SMS directly to the government.

The data from the messages and locations can then be used by government agencies and health bodies to mobilise resources where they are most needed across the country.

It can also be used to find specific regions with growing numbers of suspected Ebola cases which require urgent supplies, as well as speeding up response times for body collection and burial.

The software was set up via a partnership between IBM's recently established Africa research lab and Sierra Leone's Open Government Initiative.

IBM's chief scientist at the African research centre, Dr Uyi Stewart, said that the firm 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," he said.

Affected countries such as Sierra Leone have already benefited from the system, which has seen expedited deliveries of essential items such as soap and electricity.

The system also takes advantage of radio broadcasts to encourage people to get in touch and express their opinions about the outbreak. The general public are being alerted to the entire programme via this medium.

"Radio is a powerful medium in Africa but its potential to gather and analyse audience feedback has not been fully seized," added Dr Sharath Srinivasan,  director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge University.

"We are working with IBM to offer people across Sierra Leone a channel to voice their opinions and, crucially, to ensure that the data is rapidly analysed and turned into valuable insight about the effectiveness of public service.

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