Echo Mobile, Airtel and IBM firm launch initiative to fight Ebola in Sierra Leone

IBMThe citizen engagement and analytics system uses radio broadcasts to encourage people to get in touch and express their opinions regarding Ebola. (Image source: Ken Banks/Flickr)Kenya’s Echo Mobile, Airtel and IBM Research Africa have launched a system to help curb the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone

The citizen engagement and analytics system enables communities affected by Ebola to communicate their issues and concerns directly to the government. This system helps citizens to report their issues via SMS or voice calls, IBM Research Africa said in a statement.

Khadija Sesay, director of Sierra Leone’s Open Government Initiative, said, “For us to tackle Ebola, it is crucial to maintain an open dialogue between the government and the people of Sierra Leone.”

The statement added that telecom operator Airtel has set up a toll-free number through which citizens can send SMS messages. The SMS data is anonymized by Echo mobile.

Data anonymization is the process of either encrypting or removing personally identifiable information from data sets, so that the people whom the data describe remain anonymous.

Jeremy Gordon, product director of Echo Mobile, said, “We’re working to make sure that the stream of messages from patients, health workers and the general public can be used to augment the response effort and provide a direct and near real-time view of the situation on the ground.”

The analytics system provides an actionable insight to the government of Sierra Leone about the day-to-day experiences of communities directly affected by Ebola, which it can use to help improve its strategy for containing the disease, added IBM Research Africa.

According to Uyi Stewart, chief scientist at IBM Research Africa, as Africa’s first technology research lab, 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,” Stewart added.

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