Partnership expands ICT support for Ebola fight in West Africa

NetHope, a consortium of 42 leading international humanitarian organizations, has announced a partnership with Facebook, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, 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 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.

"Effective communications and information sharing is simply fundamental to the work of our teams and local partners fighting this complex emergency in West Africa," said Nigel Chapman, CEO of Plan International, a global humanitarian organization providing community-based health centers, public health information campaigns, medical and food supplies, and training for health workers inWest Africa. "The ability of our teams to access and share information in real time is not simply a matter of greater efficiency — it simply saves lives."

The ERCI expands on the participating organizations' support for rapid-deployment communications solutions delivered to West Africain late 2014 to meet immediate needs on the ground. That initial support for Ebola response organizations included:

  • Facebook's donation of 100 satellite terminals to provide emergency connectivity to high-priority locations within Ebola affected countries
  • Connectivity accelerator funds provided by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to increase existing connectivity at 45 locations, many of which will serve as connectivity distribution sites for ERCI
  • These initial deployments have provided emergency communications capability to more than 25 NetHope member NGOs and other response organizations with more than 3,000 staff and volunteers working on the frontlines of the crisis 

"As we've worked together in recent months to support the connectivity needs of response organizations and impacted communities, there has been a clear recognition by all involved of two central facts: the scope of the challenge is enormous and communications capacity is essential for virtually every Ebola response related intervention," said NetHope CEO Lauren Woodman. "This unique collaboration among global leaders in technology, philanthropy and the NGO sector harnesses their combined commitment, innovation and expertise to meet the immense challenges in both the short and long term."

The joint initiative will significantly expand the scope and sustainability of the communications capacity, supporting thousands of response workers and ultimately millions of individuals through:

  • Deployment and operation of additional infrastructure and equipment in the impacted countries through support from Facebook and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. This will be based on the priority needs of NetHope NGO members and other response organizations with a focus on shared services with local partners and long-term benefit for local communities.
  • Data analysis on connectivity in the impacted countries, conducted by Facebook's Data Science Team. This includes working closely with NetHope and mobile network operators to map locations that have the geographic need for Internet connectivity and the technological capability to provide it.
  • On-site hotspot equipment and financial support from Cisco Meraki, that enables responders to connect laptops, phones and tablets to improve all communications related to the relief effort.
  • The broadband solution, architected by EveryLayer and deployed by Inveneo and its certified partners, is based on a combination of extending satellite technology and strengthening existing service provider networks with carrier-grade Wi-Fi technology. The network can be deployed at a lower cost and on a faster time horizon than traditional mobile networks.
  • Partnerships with local mobile network operators and improvements to local infrastructure will ensure that communities have access to long-term, low-cost connectivity beyond the short-term Ebola relief effort.

"The Internet can be an enabler for basic needs like healthcare, and we are seeing that firsthand with Ebola response efforts," saidChris Weasler, Facebook's Director of Global Connectivity. "The communications capacity that we are implementing with this extraordinary partnership is one step in supporting the work that the doctors, nurses and health professionals have bravely led inWest Africa. We believe that ERCI can deliver critical tools, talent and resources to help those on the front lines access and send lifesaving information and stay in touch with their families and friends at home. By providing courageous medical professionals with the right support, we hope to encourage others to follow their path and fight the spread of this disease."

"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 Paul G. Allen Family 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."

"Every day, we see people face seemingly overwhelming issues. Working with partners, using our expertise and technology, we can help respond to critical human needs. We do this through Cisco's employees and our technology; bringing people together to tackle global challenges faster," said Tae Yoo, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs. "By providing the resources, the technology and the experience to address the connectivity demands of the first responders, aid organizations and governments, we hope to multiply the positive impact of connecting the experts who are working tirelessly toward a breakthrough in the fight against the spread of this disease."

"High-speed, reliable Internet access is a key lever to stopping the spread of Ebola," said Mark Summer, CEO and Co-founder of EveryLayer. "An additional benefit to ERCI's approach is that once we've won the fight against Ebola, the broadband infrastructure and partnerships will stay in place and continue to deliver high-speed Internet to local businesses and customers, which will help communities thrive for years to come."

"ICT is an important tool in combating Ebola. Inveneo is excited to build out key communication infrastructure to support needed ICT tools. We are leveraging our local partners in country to assure locally trained personnel support the effort and to provide long-term sustainability," said Bruce Baikie, Executive Director of Inveneo.

 

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