When Nigeria was hit by its first outbreak of the Ebola virus, health workers monitoring suspected cases armed themselves with mobile phones and an Android app that cut the time it took to report the onset of symptoms.
The app and most of the phones were provided by eHealth & Information Systems Nigeria, a Santa Ana, California-based non-profit research company that operates in the northern city of Kano. Ebola Alert, a group of volunteers, used Facebook and Twitter to educate Nigerians about the illness. Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Nigerian unit organized training sessions for journalists on how to use Google Trends to identify top questions most people wanted answered about the disease.
The phone app helped reduce reporting times that would normally take 12 hours by half initially, then 75 percent, before becoming almost real time, according to Daniel Tom-Aba, senior data manager at the Ebola Emergency Operation Centre in Lagos. Information previously written on forms by hand before being sent to databases could be updated immediately, he said.
“With Ebola, time is very important,” Adam Thompson, the chief executive officer of eHealth & Information Systems, an organization that had gained experience fighting the polio virus in northern Nigeria, said by phone from Kano. “If there’s a two or three-day lag in order to get a contact to the list, this could be a problem. The person could be in a different country by that point.”
After a two-month campaign, during which more than 800 people who came into contact with infected persons were placed under surveillance, Nigerian officials are confident the outbreak has been contained. The Health Ministry isn’t monitoring anyone at the moment and expects Nigeria to be declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization about Oct. 20, spokesman Daniel Nwomeh said by phone on Oct. 3 from Abuja, the capital.