IBM joins fight against Ebola with mobile-based tracking system

IBM has waded into the fight against Ebola, turning its super data-crunching capabilities towards helping track the virus as it spreads throughout Sierra Leone.

The firm has launched a new system, which, through the medium of user-sent reports, will be able to track the disease across the country on a case-by-case basis. Citizens of Sierra Leone will be able to add to the helpful data by sending SMS or voice calls about any incident they see.

Read more: Microsoft joins the Ebola fight

Any data that IBM receives will be pumped through its number crunching supercomputers in order to highlight correlations or patterns. The system has already begun to pay dividends, as regions where the virus is spreading have been pinpointed and had supplies, like soap and electricity, sent to them.

"We saw the need to quickly develop a system to enable communities directly affected by Ebola to provide valuable insight about how to fight it," Dr Uyi Stewart, chief scientist of IBM Research in Africa, told the BBC.

"Using mobile technology, we have given them a voice and a channel to communicate their experiences directly to the government."

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The director of Sierra Leone's open government initiative, Khadija Sesay, added that the system had opened up "a channel with the general public so we can learn from their input and create actionable policies".

The Sierra Leone government has implemented a campaign of radio broadcasts in order to encourage people to use the system, while telecoms company Airtel followed suit in setting up a free number citizens can text from.