NetHope and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation announced a partnership with Facebook, Cisco, EveryLayer and Inveneo to expand their support for effective communications capabilities to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and promote sustainable recovery in the region.
The partnership is part of Paul G. Allen’s Tackle Ebola initiative and $100 million commitment to support efforts to stop the outbreak.
The joint Ebola Response Connectivity Initiative (ERCI) will deliver high-speed broadband Internet access to Ebola responders based in hundreds of Ebola treatment facilities, NGO offices, and additional logistical hubs in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Reliable communications capacity is an essential tool for response organizations combating the outbreak, which has killed more than 8,600 people according the World Health Organization. Slow, unreliable access to the Internet remains a major challenge for coordinating the Ebola relief effort, particularly in some of the hardest hit areas that lack any form of high-speed broadband. Existing networks have also been strained by the influx of relief workers and agencies in the region, increasing demand on the already fragile infrastructure. Effective ICT capacity enables rapid access and exchange of information, real-time case management and contact tracking, outbreak mapping, community mobilization, and supply and logistics management.
Andy Hickl, senior director of innovation at Vulcan Inc., said his early research last summer showed that “connectivity and communications infrastructure was just the bottleneck.”
Hickl said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal health officials told him they needed faster data gathering from the field. For instance, aid workers in treatment centers wrote weekly reports about new Ebola cases on pink forms, which were transported by motorbike to larger population hubs and then sent to organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
In November, the Foundation donated 10,000 smartphones to enhance data collection and identify aid needs in West Africa.
“From the early stages of this crisis we recognized the need for connectivity and data collection in containing and ultimately stopping Ebola,” said Gabrielle Fitzgerald, Ebola Program Lead for the Foundation. “Working together we can build an infrastructure that will have an immediate impact as well as long-term effect to help the countries recover once this crisis is over.”
The ERCI expands on the participating organizations’ support for rapid-deployment communications solutions delivered to West Africa in late 2014 to meet immediate needs on the ground.