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Friday, November 14, 2014

Ebola Containment: Role of ICT



From Sawyer nemesis to global positioning:
ACROSS the African continent and the world at large one thing everyone seem to be focused on is how to contain the dreadful Ebola Virus from further spreading, especially through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools, reports ITRealms.

The importance of ICT tools mostly for education of the populace or public enlightenment on specific issues like Ebola Virus cannot be over-looked, hence, it was not surprising for Nigeria to allude its success in curtailing the spread of this virus since the visit of Liberian Patrick Sawyer to Lagos.

ITRealms recalls that Ebola virus was introduced into Nigeria on 20 July 2014 when an infected Liberian Patrick Sawyer arrived by aeroplane into Lagos. Mr. Sawyer was declared dead at the FirstCity Hospital Obalende, five (5) days later. This also set off a chain of transmission that infected a total of 19 people, of which 7 died.

ICT tools to the rescue:
Some experts have classified ICT tools to include devices and objects used in ICT sector to deliver invaluable person-to-person service moreso instantly; for example the computers, mobile phones and cell phone towers, televisions, video conferencing software, radios, laptops, Digital Video Display (DVDs), network of hardware and software, satellite systems as well as various services and applications associated with the aforementioned.

Taking the lead on these tools, ITRealms gathered, is the software application associated with a given campaign, especially at this era of Ebola epidemic across the world but spurred by social media applications.

According to the Minister of Communication Technology, Dr. (Mrs) Omobola Johnson,a combination of social media tools was instrumental in Nigeria’s fight to contain the Ebola virus. Speaking in a policy statement delivered at the ongoing International Telecommunications Union ITU 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14) in Busan, Republic of Korea, Dr. Johnson told delegates made up of Ministers and senior government officials from across the globe, that with Ebola, time is of essence to the fact that mobile device apps helped in reducing reporting times of infections by 75 per cent.

“Test results were scanned to tablets and uploaded to emergency databases and field teams got text message alerts on their phones informing them of the results,” she revealed.

The combinations that worked for Nigeria:
Dr. Johnson restated that the combination of the internet and mobile cellular phones has opened up tremendous opportunities for countries like Nigeria. Maintaining that there are vertical increases in mobile use, which has been driven by a number of factors, particularly, the additional ways in which mobile phones are being used in Nigeria.

She stressed that beyond conducting voice conversations, mobile phones are often the preferred channel for receiving data and for conducting transactions in Nigeria thereby making phones an indispensable tool used as-cameras, wallets, shops, music players, movie screens, and information or service centres of Nigerians.

Nigeria’s policy focus Johnson noted, is in line with the reality of the mobile internet revolution spreading across the globe- thus, the Ministry of Communication Technology is looking to create a viable environment for the proliferation of lower priced devices, increased investment in network infrastructure, and increased availability of spectrum for mobile broadband, in the knowledge that these will further drive growth in the nation’s ICT sector.

A path to National ICT Policy implementation:
Johnson also disclosed that through the implementation of the National ICT Policy, National Broadband Roadmap, and Guidelines for Nigerian Content in ICT, the Ministry is bringing greater clarity and predictability to the Nigerian ICT sector.

She stated that in the past four years, Nigeria has seen mobile subscription increase from 87 million active SIM cards to over 131 million and mobile internet subscription stood at 67 million as at June 2014.

The Ministry’s policy framework, Johnson said aligns with the ITU’s Strategic Plan for 2016-2019, particularly its identified goals and targets of growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, and innovation and partnership.

ICTs adds 12.05 to GDP:
The ICT sector’s contribution to Nigeria’s GDP is growing and was about 10.44 per cent in 2013. The sector also indirectly impacts GDP through its influence on other key sectors; for example, in the 2013, ICTs were responsible for 12.05 per cent of the value added by the Finance and Insurance sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

In terms of social growth, Mrs. Johnson added that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are helping government to meet health objectives and amplifying benefits in the education and agriculture sectors respectively.

According to Johnson, the ITU’s growth priority of enabling and fostering access to and increase use of telecommunications through ICTs, resonates with Nigeria, both economically and socially. 

Nigeria is also using telecommunications and ICTs to build a more inclusive society. Just as she said, the Broadband initiative which Nigeria is currently implementing across technologies and at various levels of governance, aligns with the Union’s priority of bridging the digital divide and providing broadband for all. Furthermore, these initiatives, Johnson reiterated are mindful of the needs of women and girls, as well as other marginalised groups of the Nigerian society.

Nigeria is Ebola free says WHO:
Although the successful containment encouraged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to tell the world on October 20, 2014 that it has satisfied Nigeria to be free of Ebola outbreak.

According to WHO recommendations, the end of an Ebola virus disease outbreak in a country can be declared once 42 days have passed and no new cases have been detected. The 42 days represents twice the maximum incubation period for Ebola (21 days). This 42-day period starts from the last day that any person in the country had contact with a confirmed or probable Ebola case.

“Today, 20 October, Nigeria reached that 42-day mark and is now considered free of Ebola transmission,” WHO officials declared, and commended the Nigerian government’s strong leadership and effective coordination of the response that included the rapid establishment of an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).

How Nigerians mobilized against Ebola:
WHO equally pointed out that when the first Ebola case was confirmed in July, health officials immediately repurposed technologies and infrastructures from WHO and other partners to help find cases and track potential chains of transmission of Ebola virus disease.

WHO, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other partners supported the Nigerian government with expertise for outbreak investigation, risk assessment, contact tracing and clinical care.

Strong public awareness campaigns, teamed with early engagement of traditional, religious and community leaders, also played a key role in successful containment of this outbreak.

ITRealms gathered from Fadéla Chaib, Communications Officer, World Health Organization that the Nigerian government and staff in the WHO country office are not unaware that the country remains vulnerable to another imported case. The surveillance system remains at a level of high alert.

Nigeria has revised its national preparedness and response plan to ensure that the country is well prepared for other imported cases of the disease.

Today, there is regular campaign in the media across the country on Ebola and despite the containment, these campaign have not stopped, thus commendable.

Ebola hotspots:
ITRealms further gathered that WHO has develop partnerships to introduce serum treatment in Ebola hotspots such as Liberia, which is currently experiencing the highest incidence of Ebola infections.

Serum, BBC reports, is simply blood from recovered patients which contains antibodies which can help fight off disease when transfused into sick patients.

WHO Assistant Director General for Health System and Innovation, Dr. Marie Kieny, was quoted as saying that a facility in Liberia may be ready to start harvesting and treatment of serum in a matter of weeks.

“There are partnerships which are starting to be put in place to have capacity in the three countries to safely extract plasma and make preparation that can be used for the treatment of infective patients,” Dr Kieny said.

Nigerians applaud federal government:
For many other Nigerians, one good thing about the use of enlightenment tools like ICT to deliver information needed as far as the containment effort of the government was concerned in the country was the ability of the political class to draw a line between politics and true enlightenment and public good, coupled with prayers of Nigerians, who have been previously ranked as very religious nation.

Speaking to ITRealms, Emma Okonji believes that the efforts of the government and leadership of the country, Nigerian’s prayers were heard because even churches took extra steps to augment their faith in prayers by introducing sanitizer usage among members.

He cited an instance with the Catholic Church in Lagos State Archdiocese as waking up to its responsibility to stop the direct giving of Blessed Sacrament into the mouth of faithful, instead education was introduced for Catholics to receive their sacrament by hand and take it themselves.

This position, he said, was endorsed by the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria and was not surprised that other churches and religion played their parts on this without undue sentiment.

ITRealms notes that sooner than fear of the Ebola virus was made known across Nigeria, Catholic priests were directed by the Bishops to by-pass the traditional rite of peace during masses.

The rite of peace equally known as ‘sign of peace,’encompasses shaking hands of fellow congregants, which tends to build religious communion and mutual charity among members, according to Catholic Online.

Conclusion:
Although one thing that has started to emerge is the politics of Ebola containment in the Nigerian polity, which follows the Federal Government’s global recognition, especially by WHO for this achievement, but the Lagos State government which is under a different party - the All Progressive Congress (APC) party claimed its effort superseded that of the federal under another, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).

One may not be taken by surprise come 2015, that Ebola and its containment could assume the political life trend. Only time shall tell as the desire of Africans and Nigerians remain on the sustained containment of Ebola likewise other epidemics in the world.
 
The Nigerian nation must not forget the warning of WHO that Nigeria remains vulnerable to another imported case, invariably, due to the way other African countries and their citizens, especially in the West Africa sub-region view and see Nigeria as their own United States in Africa.

Therefore, the surveillance system should remain at a level of high alert as if WHO never gave any clearance.

 

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