Can smartphones tackle Ebola? Ericsson announces aid drive

Swedish telecoms firm Ericsson on Friday announced a partnership with the International Rescue Committee to improve disaster and crisis response

Saffiya Ansari
Saffiya Ansari - Al Arabiya News, Stockholm
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Amid the raging Syrian refugee crisis and the “worst” Ebola epidemic in history, Swedish telecommunications firm Ericsson on Friday announced a partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to improve disaster and crisis response using mobile technology.

Initially, the partnership is set to focus on the provisions of mobile phones and applications designed to support Ebola infection-prevention efforts in healthcare facilities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ericsson will provide the IRC will technology to record and monitor data in a bid to improve the response of healthcare facilities on the ground.

“We are supporting the IRC with the provision of smartphones in the Ebola field to improve efficiency in collecting data and tracking the disease.” Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, vice president of sustainability and corporate responsibility at Ericsson, explained to Al Arabiya News.

The partnership will also provide technology that enables displaced families to reconnect with one another, which could be key for the IRC’s ongoing work with Syrian refugees, including the more than three million externally displaced Syrians.

“We are, as frontline responders, dealing with an unprecedented number of crises,” Allan Freedman, the IRC’s advisor on public and private partnerships, said at an Ericsson conference in Stockholm on Friday.

“We are facing the worst epidemic of Ebola in our history, not to mention ISIS [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syrip militant group], Afghanistan and issues in other Middle East regions… We need to look for new ways of responding,” he added.
Gwi-Yop Son, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ director for corporate programs, outlined the ways in which technology can help in crisis management.

“In Afghanistan mobile cash transfers have been introduced, in other places, drones are being used to gather information, data is being stored and used to track the spread of viruses such as Ebola and mobile technology allows for two-way communication between humanitarian responders and the population and also among the population…We are all human beings, there is a basic need to communicate so restoring communications after a disaster is key.

“Connectivity and access to information in disaster situations becomes crucial…technology is a key enabler,” she noted.

The United Nations recognizes the importance of leveraging partnerships and technology to find solutions, she said. “We are faster, cheaper and more effective if we work in partnership with tech providing firms.”

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