Tech Talk: Tracking and fighting Ebola with technology

From the moment the Ebola outbreak was first discovered earlier this year in West Africa, technology has been playing an important role in detecting its spread, initially in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While medical personnel on the ground are treating people infected by the virus and Red Cross workers are raising awareness about preventing its spread and dispelling myths, others are taking up the fight against Ebola with digital tools.

HealthMap tracking EbolaDeveloped by researchers in Boston, HealthMap is a tool that monitors and aggregates data from numerous online sources worldwide including social media on topics related to public health threats. It crunches and analyzes this data and provides real-time updates on health threats, anything from West Nile Virus and rabies, to E. coli and Ebola. Reports of hemorrhagic fever in Guinea started to pop up on HealthMap before the outbreak of Ebola was officially confirmed. It was an early warning sign that this virus, which was not present in West Africa previously, was now a threat. You can check out the current Ebola outbreak timeline and map on

The information presented by HealthMap is visually appealing and interactive, made available to the general public on their website and mobile app. And it’s useful not only to those working on the Ebola outbreak, but to any of us seeking information about various types of health threats in our region.   

Meanwhile, volunteers from around the world are also contributing to the Ebola response by helping to create accurate maps of communities in the affected countries using open source tools and data. This mapping effort is being coordinated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team at the request of humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross and MSF, to assist aid workers. You can read more about this project in this article by the American Red Cross.

Canadians can support Red Cross efforts by donating to the West Africa Ebola Fund.

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