Tech and Ebola — Facebook’s initiative and the Ebola Care app


Ebola Care’s apps against Ebola is providing healthcare workers with tools to help track, treat and prevent the disease

The tech community is rallying to help fight Ebola which has become a serious threat, mostly in West Africa with 13,000 cases so far, according to the World Health Organization.

Tech companies are stepping up to the plate, including Facebook, which launched an initiative that includes an easy way to donate online, with proceeds going to the International Medical Corps, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Save the Children. Facebook is also partnering with UNICEF to use its vast network to deliver health information including information on Ebola symptoms and treatment to Facebook users in the region. Finally, they are working with NetHope to provide communications resources to aid workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Facebook is also bringing Internet service to affected areas that would otherwise not have coverage.

Listen to Larry Magid’s CBS News Tech Talk segment on tech & Ebola

Journey, a company that offers a mobile app development platform, has used its own platform to create Ebola Care, a free app that’s being employed by the Liberian government and several West African non-profits (NGOs) to help healthcare workers in the affected region trace those infected to prevent new infections, collect patient data, locate staff resources, coordinate with ambulance teams and care for children who have been abandoned after their parents contracted Ebola.

The app, which can run on Android and iOS (but for cost reasons, the target platform is Android or Amazon’s Fire Phone) can use the phone’s GPS to pinpoint the precise location of the patient and the phone’s camera to photograph the patient. If there is no connectivity, the data is stored on the device until the phone can access WiFi or a cellular network. Once connected, the data is transmitted to cloud servers that make it available to healthcare workers, border agents, Ebola researchers and other professionals through a link to Google docs, which can be accessed wherever it’s needed.

Easy to use

I had a chance to try out the app (admittedly from my safe and Ebola-free perch in Silicon Valley) and was impressed by the amount of data it can collect and its ease of use. There is a place to enter in all of the patient’s contacts so that they can be evaluated as well as forms to be filled out by ambulance teams to better track the patients. Because the phones are location-aware, they can pinpoint the actual neighborhoods where Ebola is present, making it easier for health care and Ebola prevention specialists to target their activities.

Data collection — essential but slow

We live in a world dominated by data and that’s as true in health care as it is in business. Data is essential to inform decision makers at the local and international levels about directing resources and employing best-practices. Whether it’s a matter of a small clinic knowing when to quarantine a particular patient or a big international agency making strategic decisions, it’s important to know exactly what they’re dealing with and where to send their limited resources.

But because of the region where Ebola is most virulent, the available technology is extremely limited so workers are mostly relying on paper forms which are hard enough to share locally, let alone internationally.

Ebola Care co-developer Phlip Joubert