Can A Mobile Phone Help Stop Ebola?

Digital Content

Mobile phones have been essential for spreading important information about the Ebola virus outbreak that has devastated Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, but they could do much more to halt the spread of this deadly disease.

Ebola continues to kill fathers, mothers, children and health professionals with devastating efficiency in affected countries. At last count, the virus has caused 2240 infections with 1229 deaths. As the epidemic continues it is affecting the economies of West Africa where fear of contagion has resulted in slowed commerce, border closings, and airline travel bans , that have impacted both small businesses and large multinationals.

The community of African tech entrepreneurs (to which I belong) has done its best to use social media and mobile to share important information about Ebola safety and prevention , but in recent days I have asked myself whether we can be more proactive in our efforts to save lives.

Mobile phones are Africa’s most ubiquitous technology. They have revolutionized banking, agriculture, and even entertainment but the question is are there are a variety interventions beyond social media and SMS texting that can support the eradication of Ebola?

Scientists have already developed and tested a mobile device in Rwanda that can diagnose HIV and Syphilis. The Millennium Villages Project has also used solar charged mobile phones to fight malaria. There are even devices that can help mobile phones analyze DNA. So why can’t we create a simple diagnostic device that would help health workers to quickly and accurately identify Ebola patients in the field? In a deadly epidemic like the current Ebola outbreak early detection through rapid disease testing can be the real difference between life and death. Imagine a device attached to the mobile phone of a health worker could heat and cool a blood sample to pinpoint the existence of the RNA strand for Ebola and display preliminary results. Health workers could also use mobile technology to provide real time data collection and updates to the WHO and government health officials that will allow better allocation of resources and personnel to fight the spread of Ebola.

An epidemic like the present one is devastating because of the loss of life, damage to the economy and psychological impact it has on affected populations. But we need not be paralyzed by our fear. African biotechnologists, software developers and app developers need to deploy our skills to solve urgent real world problems that are unique to the continent. Considering the slow international response to the current outbreak it’s clear that if we don’t do so for ourselves, we will have to wait a while before anyone comes to help us.

Source: Ventures Africa  21 August 2014