Olusegun Ogundeji – As part of the Regional Ministerial Consultative Meeting on Ebola: Leveraging Information and Communication Technology to Save Lives, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has launched its Big Data Project in Sierra Leone.
Described as groundbreaking by an ITU official because the information gathered were from official sources and approved by the authorities, the event which is the biggest in the country since the ebola outbreak, was held at the Bintumani International Conference Center in Freetown, Sierra Leone between 26 and 27 August 2015.
It provided a platform for participants – comprising mainly of ministers responsible for ICTs and health in selected countries particularly Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – to share experiences and map out strategies on Ebola emergency preparedness, disaster management and early warning systems; and to use ICTs to break the chain of Ebola transmission and support future epidemic response efforts.
“This is an event that is bringing together ministers of the affected countries, regulatory authorities, and the private sector in Africa to see how we could use big data to track population movements based on anonymized data in order to protect the identities of those involved),” says the Chief of Department, Project Support and Knowledge Management Telecommunication Development Bureau at ITU, Dr. Cosmas Zavazava, via email. “The resulting analytics will be used by government officials and humanitarian actors to track movement of persons affected or those that are at risk. By knowing which areas they came from and passed through, it would be easy to draw conclusions on potential transmissions of diseases such as Ebola.”
He added that those dealing with the provision of medicines, shelter, food etc would also use such information to know where to deliver such services/resources for internally displaced persons. This same technology will be vital in the aftermath of disasters as it would help the authorities to track victims and deliver timely assistance.
Other participants include representatives from ITU, telecom regulatory authorities, UN agencies, NERC, NGOs, MDAs, telcos, and Facebook.