By Gisli Olaffson
NetHope recently launched an appeal to support its member organizations responding to the severe outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented in terms of the number of cases, deaths and its geographical spread. NetHope’s main focus is to assist its NGO member organizations and other responders with information and communication technology (ICT) aspects of the response.
The transnational outbreak currently has confirmed cases in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. As of late last week, over 2,600 cases had been confirmed, with close to 1,500 of them resulting in deaths. This current virus has a case fatality rate of approximately 60% overall.
Efforts to contain, and ultimately end, the epidemic have grown in commitment and capacity; however, there is a large risk of the virus further spreading within the affected countries and more widely across borders. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has exposed the very poor health systems in the affected countries, the insufficient isolation facilities for the infected, the ineffective mass campaigns to educate people about Ebola and the stark shortage of professionals trained in dealing with infectious diseases.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak – especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone – has been underestimated for a number of reasons. Many families continue to hide infected loved ones in their homes. Since Ebola has no cure, some believe the infected will be more comfortable dying at home. Others deny that a patient has Ebola and believe that care in an isolation ward – often viewed as an incubator of the disease – will lead to infection and certain death. Most fear the stigma and social rejection that comes with a positive Ebola diagnosis.
With all crises, reliable information is key to effective coordination, containment and response. However, information stuck in siloes and the transnational nature of the outbreak make it even harder to gather a clear view of the overall situation. To address this issue, NetHope is collaborating with its NGO members, academic partners, private sector partners and the digital volunteer community to actively collect, process, analyze and openly share information related to the outbreak.
Over the last few days, over 25 digital volunteers from the Stand-By Task Force have been scouring the Internet for publicly available datasets related to the affected countries. They have also collected datasets from responding organizations on the current situation and their response efforts. All of the data is being made available on the Open Humanitarian Data Repository site, a component of the Open Humanitarian Initiative.
NetHope is coordinating this information sharing effort with other response organizations to minimize duplication of efforts and encourage as many organizations as possible to openly sharing information, so this outbreak can be effectively addressed.
NetHope is also working with its member organizations on ICT-related efforts to better collect digital information in the field and enhance access to accurate public health messages.