For the most part, Kpetermeni Siakor ‘15 has keenly followed the world’s work, and the progress being made, to stop the spread of Ebola. His home country, Liberia, has been one of the worst affected countries and has lost over 2000 people to the virus.
“The outbreak was not taken seriously in the beginning,” says Kpetermeni, as he adjusts his round spectacles. “By the time it was, it had gone out of control. As a Liberian I couldn’t sit and hope all would be well; I had to contribute to the work being done to control this disaster.”
From Ashesi’s campus in Ghana, the country where the United Nations team for combating Ebola is based, Kpetermeni reached out to his colleagues at iLab Liberia, a remarkable not-for-profit technology space which he helped start. He remembered how the team had been actively involved in crisis response in the wake of Japan’s earthquake disaster, and encouraged them to find ways in which they could help the fight against Ebola.
The iLab Liberia team spoke to as many people who were directly involved with the situation as possible, in order to understand the technology gaps in Liberia’s fight against Ebola, and how they could build custom solutions for them. They learned that health workers had a problem storing and managing data on Ebola cases — not having any digitised records of cases, long periods of time between data collection and transmission to the health ministry, emergency dispatch delays and general confusion among health officers handling data — which was slowing down the work to track, control and stop the disease.
Armed with this feedback, Kpetermeni has joined his colleagues in deploying effective data tools for the health ministry in Liberia. The team is helping provide computers, reliable internet connectivity and iLab volunteers to digitise paper case forms and track Ebola contact cases. The team is also assisting Medical Teams International to map out all the health centres in Liberia in order to track in new cases.
From Ashesi’s computer labs, Kpetermeni works remotely with the iLab team to provide the real time information support systems that health teams in Liberia desperately need to combat the spread of Ebola. The team has also managed to help cut down the time it takes for information to get from call centres and emergency dispatch units to the Ministry of Health.
“Each morning I sign in to our team group on Skype, which has some 200 people connected,” Kpetermeni adds. “The group has people from the UN, the MSF and other health agencies involved in the fight against Ebola. We spend each morning understanding the progress we are making, the gaps that need to be addressed and new information that might affect the fight. What is clear to everyone, is that accurate data plays a big role.”
“I am hopeful that we will stop Ebola quicker than is projected. Recorded cases keep reducing, and when Liberia is finally Ebola free, we can continue to work to strengthen the weak systems that allowed it to grow so quickly in the first place.”
(By Reshma Mawji '17)