Ebola, as well as other health epidemics have always been put under control through the use of technology. In West Africa, information communication technology (ICT) played a significant role in the prevention and control of the virus. However, this technology was not fully utilized given the potential that it has. This paper will therefore expound on how ICT can be used in West Africa and the whole world in general to control future outbreaks of Ebola and other diseases by using approaches such as mapping and geomapping, digital training and data collection, wireless communication, and social media.
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Developing nations face a number of health challenges, including failure to control preventable diseases that result in premature deaths. In West Africa, for instance, the eruption of the Ebola virus resulted in the death of thousands of people before it could be put under control (Chetley, 2006). This high level of casualty is a result of inequality in the access to health care services, poor service delivery in the health care industry due to underfinancing, poor allocation of health care resources that tend to be scarce in these regions and the lack of proper coordination among key stakeholders in the process of identifying and controlling preventable diseases (Chetley, 2006).
Application of ICT in Health Care
The 20th century saw the introduction of ICT. However, it is in the 21st century, this technology has grown through innovative and creative advances. Technologies such as mobile communications, computing and broadband internet have made it possible to devise various epidemic and response strategies (Chetley, 2006). As asserted earlier, the health care industry has highly relied on technology to control and prevent health predicaments. However, the recent outbreak of Ebola in Western Africa showed the potential that ICT has in controlling and preventing predicaments. As asserted by Chetley (2006), the application of ICT cannot curb the spread or cure diseases, however, if it can be used effectively to educate, warn, and empower individuals regarding a specific disease, hence significantly reducing its spread and overall impact in a given society. This paper will cover five areas in which ICT can be used to achieve the above goals.
Mapping and Geolocation
The main challenge in previous health outbreaks has been the process of identifying patient zero, the places where infected individuals have visited and the individuals they have been in contact with. This was the case with the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This is where geographical information systems techniques can be effectively applied. Through the use of mapping and geolocation, it is possible to get data with regards to the places and individuals whom infected individuals have been in contact with. This information is important in isolating individuals to safe environments, hence controlling the spread of an infectious disease (Luege, 2014).
Digital Training and Data Collection
In the process of collecting relevant information on a given health epidemic, it is important to conduct interviews. In the case of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, this process was conducted manually and then the data was then entered into a computer (Luege, 2014). From a critical point of view, it is evident that this process is slow, tedious, and prone to errors. To overcome this challenge in future, digital forms have been developed. These digital forms are effective and efficient since enumerators can fill them using their mobile phones and can transmit this data remotely to tallying stations saving time and reducing errors.
At the same time, technological advancement in mobile computing has made it possible to train health workers remotely. This can be achieved using applications such as Oppia browser and e-Buddie that enables direct exchange of information (Koeleman, 2015). At the same time, the use of voice and video calls also play an integral part in the training exercise saving time and money as compared to direct training. This ensures that health workers have up to date knowledge, information, and skills that are necessary not control and prevent the spread of an infectious disease.
Outbreaks are usually characterized by intense isolation. This in turn makes it difficult, and so some extent impossible for loved ones who are isolated to communicate through each other. Given the fact that communication amongst individuals, especially loved ones is essential, it is important to ensure that various channels of conveying messages are available (Wilkins, 2014). The use of mobile messaging, wireless calls (VOIP) and social media can greatly enhance communication in such situations. In developing nations, however, access to such technologies might be difficult, hence local Wi-Fi networks can be set up to facilitate communication within specific areas.
Decimation of Epidemic Information
Various kinds of SMS sending and receiving information can be set up to ensure that real time information with regards to the spread of a given epidemic is conveyed within and out of the crisis zone. In West Africa, mHero was set up to convey Ebola updates among health workers within this region (Luege, 2014). This system works in conjunction with UNICEF’s RapidPro system. The presence of effective and efficient communication systems is important, especially in ensuring ease of decimation of critical information. In an event of an Ebola outbreak, for instance, it is key to convey to the local population information on the appropriate precautions that they need to put in place to control and prevent the spread of the virus. Consequently, this portal can be used to send reminder messages to the local population on the same issue over and over again. Therefore, the use of SMS services will ensure that precise information is conveyed directly to the target population and appropriate measures taken.
The Use of Social Media
Social media is the most used platform by individuals and corporations for communicating and interaction purposes. Given the coverage that it has, social media can be influential in preventing and controlling the spread of health epidemics such as Ebola. At the present moment, however, only a small proportion of the West African population access to the internet, therefore making it not to be a useful tool as it should be for this purpose. Despite this fact, most of these individuals have huge diasporas. For instance, Liberia alone has approximately 450,000 diasporas living in the USA alone (Luege, 2014). These individuals have access to the internet and social media platforms and therefore, they are in a position to use social media to air the current situation in epidemic areas hence seeking international support.
While ICT cannot directly stop the spread of an epidemic, this approach can be used to significantly control this spread by generating and decimating critical information that can be useful in education and empowering individuals hence reducing the overall impact. Advances in ICT such as mapping and geolocation, the digital training and data collection, wireless communication, and the use of social media are examples of means through which this new avenue can be used to curb the spread of an epidemic by providing relevant information that on one part will enhance the preparedness of health workers to put under control the epidemic and on the other hand improve the preparedness of the local population educating and training them on the necessary precautions that they can take to prevent its spread.
Koeleman, D. (2015). Four ways technology can help fight future epidemics. Web.
Luege, T. (2014). 6 ways technology is helping to fight ebola. Web.
Wilkins, D. (2014). The role of ICTs in fighting Ebola and other deadly Diseases. Web.