How the Crowd is Helping to Combat the Ebola Threat

Published Apr-20-15

Mapping Ebola outbreaks, designing novel antiseptics and improving protective clothing are just some of the ways crowdsourcing is helping to tackle Ebola.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United States

The Story:

How the Crowd is Helping to Combat the Ebola Threat The Ebola outbreak in West Africa first made the news headlines in March 2014. It spread rapidly and within a few months had killed many more people than previous outbreaks of the viral hemorrhagic fever. By April 2015, more than 10,000 people had died from the disease in six countries.

The global Ebola response to help afflicted areas hasn’t just come from governments and nonprofits, it has also come from the crowd. Regular citizens, companies and academics have also contributed to the effort.

For example, volunteers from 80 countries are helping the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) map some of the world’s worst-hit regions. In another crowd effort, volunteers used the Ushahidi crowdsourcing software to get reports on Ebola cases in Liberia to the country’s Ministry of Health.

Volunteers took calls from the public reporting possible new cases and these were entered into the Ushahidi system. Thus, the ministry could see information in real time, whereas before the crowd stepped in, the process took five days or more. Seeing where people were contracting the disease and where they were being treated allowed for a better deployment of supplies.

Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge

One of the most prominent uses of the crowd to tackle Ebola was ‘Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development’, a joint project between the White House and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

During a two-month period, innovators from around the world submitted more than 1,500 ideas to help frontline health workers provide better and swifter care responses to help contain the disease. It was a huge response that drew this reaction from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah: "The Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge embodies our new model of development – bringing together the world’s brightest minds to solve our biggest global challenges.

“By working together with our partners from government, business, and civil society, we are creating innovations that will not only help West Africa’s most vulnerable communities beat the Ebola epidemic, but also break the cycle of extreme poverty.”

Better Protection

After receiving pitches from the most promising concepts, government experts and various partners chose a number of innovations. The first round of awards were for ideas to improve the safety and comfort of personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by responders and healthcare workers. The winners will receive financial support and other help to get the innovations ready for testing and ultimately deployment. The winners were:

• A healthcare suit designed for quicker removal and featuring integrated cooling
features - Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation &
Design (CBID) & Jhpiego

• An antiseptic applied to the skin that provides up to 6 hours of pathogen
protection and an anti-microbial barrier to viral transmission - Aquarius GEP LLC
and Innovative BioDefense

• A spray-on barrier that repels and kills microbes with electrostatic fields to
prevent surface contamination - SPR Advanced Technologies, Inc.

Crowd Efforts to Continue

As of April 2015, the battle against Ebola is far from over. Smart brains from around the world continue to offer their help, which is not only of great benefit now, but should prove to be invaluable if outbreaks occur again.

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