BY PRINCE OSUAGWU & EMEKA AGINAM
Unless a sustainable national electronic response centre is immediately established in all the African states where the dreaded Ebola virus is ravaging people and economies, controlling it may be a wild goose chase.
This is the view of a group of African ICT experts who met online recently to proffer solution to the Ebola pandemic.
The group, made up of over 65 African Tech experts worldwide is divided into two parts which meet via teleconferencing in two separate locations of South Africa and Ghana, West Africa. They meet from time to time to share information and possibly proffer solutions that can let the continent off the hook of the scourge.
For them, Information and Communications Technology, ICT, must be at the centre and as a matter of fact, the backbone of Sustainable solution, to the Ebola spread in Africa, if better result could be achieved.
The group which branded itself Tech rescue response from Africa ICT domain network demanded that as a matter of national emergency, all African countries must create a national and Africa-wide database on Ebola.
These IT practitioners are gleaned from Nigeria, Liberia, South Africa, Congo DR and Uganda amongst other African countries.
They include Mr. Chris Uwaje from Nigeria, Ms. Dorothy Gordon of Accra Ghana and other African tech specialists in Africa and in the diaspora.
But there are also top officials from the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Work, Liberian Telecommunications Authority, Sierra Leone Health implementing NGO, Liberia-based tech consultants, Liberia diaspora tech community, Microsoft, Liberia Embassy in South Africa, Uganda and DR Congo tech institutions.
The initiative was put together by Emira Woods of Thought works Team and coordinated by Prieska Buthelezi. One key issue that prompted the meeting was the need to press upon core policy makers in Africa that unless ICT is actively deployed, the Ebola virus will continue to ravage the continent.
Setbacks to curtailing the virus
Besides the realisation that African governments are slow in passing relevant information that can help curtail the spread of the virus, the tech professionals also observed lack of collaboration between government and non-governmental organizations.
They contended that even the basic information conveyed by mobile operators via SMS in most of the affected countries as well as those from websites, social media, posters, radio announcements, lack basic details and statistics that can easily curb the menace. .
Basically, they discovered there were inadequate real-time GIS mapping of information to indicate statistics related to the spread, coupled with inadequate service delivery and prevention efforts for the disease.
Another drawback which they said was observed was that of limited internet connectivity, especially in rural areas and most urban centres. These were in addition to limited internet access to most essential health facilities as well as limited real time information, inadequate tools for pulling information from affected members of the public into the systems at Ministries of Health.
Part of the solutions the group proffered, included to constantly keep contacting, tracing and following-up those who are ill or quarantined as a result of the virus to get first hand information; to pay sufficient attention to remote areas with regards to adequate information that can keep them safe.
They also suggested strong collaboration amongst different impacted countries. They argued that when all these are built around Information and Communications Technology, the mission to nipping the Ebola menace in the bud would be result-oriented
Nigeria’s representative in the group, Mr. Chris Uwaje, who himself developed the Ebola database-engine, an app to capture the reports of the virus online across the nation, said the group was one of the best things to happen to Africa since the outbreak of the virus.
For him, the major problem with the Ebola disease in Africa is management of information between the time it is contacted and when it spreads.
“Management of information on the dreaded disease is very poor. This is because African countries are not used to solving problems with Information Technology tools. Once this orientation is changed, everything will fall in place.
For instance, Nigeria is the giant of Africa but how many of the things that make other giants do we have? We were supposed to be the custodian of the West African teleconferencing group but it had to go to Ghana because we do not have a public teleconference room that can be used. We don’t have national emergency centre that can display information.
“If we had pre information of Sawyer’s medical record in Liberia, we would have been prepared, waited for him and quarantined him at the Airport. But technology is not there to share health information in Africa. That is why I said this group is a blessing.”
“Do you know that Africa has 11 percent of world population but harbours 24 percent of world diseases? Malaria kills more in Africa than other places because we don’t deploy technology. Our people react late because the job technology can do is lacking. Time has come to change all that” he added.
Ebola database engine goes WAZOBIA
Uwaje, who is the Chief Software architect of Mobile Software Solution Limited, said that in quick response to the Ebola outbreak his company had deployed a team to create Ebola database-engine, an app to capture the virus report online across the nation, for the purpose of best education of the pros and cons of the virus to people with less knowledge of it..
He however regretted that due to the low awareness culture in the country and the little or no importance attached to ICT in the country, the Nigerian Ministry of Health has not contacted him for collaborations even when far away ministry of Health and social welfare of Liberia and world bank and Forth foundations have shown so much interest and support to the initiative..
Meanwhile, his primary aim is to apply his ICT knowledge to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed to the barest minimum in the country.
As a result, he revealed to Hi-Tech exclusively that his company has finalised arrangements to translate the Ebola mobile resource centre into the three major languages in Nigeria- Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba. This is to reach people in rural areas and properly inform them about the causes and prevention of the deadly disease.
He urged other Nigerian technology experts to see the challenge posed by this dreaded virus to their tech knowledge and come up with ideas that can save the Nigerian people. “The virus is a challenge to Nigerian IT professionals. It tests our knowledge of creating IT solutions to solve our problem. We all should face this challenge and surmount it” he added.