By Tom Jowitt
Technology is reportedly playing its part in the fight against the Ebola disease that is currently ravaging parts of West Africa.
In Nigeria, health workers are utilizing an Android app on their smartphones to help to reduce the time it takes to report the onset of symptoms with suspected patients.
Time, of course, is a vital element in the fight against Ebola. According to Bloomberg, the Android app has been provided to the Nigerian health workers by eHealth & Information Systems Nigeria which is located in the northern city of Kano in Nigeria. Its parent company is a non-profit research company based in Santa Ana, Calif.
The unnamed Android app reportedly helped reduce reporting times that would normally take 12 hours by half initially, then by 75 percent. Bloomberg quoted Daniel Tom-Aba, senior data manager at the Ebola Emergency Operation Centre in Lagos, as saying that reporting has now become almost real time.
This is a big advantage, as previously hand-written forms were used to update health official databases. Now the databases can be updated also immediately.
"With Ebola, time is very important," Adam Thompson, the chief executive officer of eHealth & Information Systems, was quoted as saying. "If there's a two- or three-day lag in order to get a contact to the list, this could be a problem. The person could be in a different country by that point."
And social media is also reportedly being used to help tackle the outbreak. A group of volunteers have created Ebola Alert, which uses Facebook and Twitter to help educate Nigerians about the disease.
And Google's Nigerian unit has also reportedly assisted in the fight, with training for journalists on how to use Google Trends in order to identify the questions people want answered about the disease.
Nigerian officials are confident the outbreak has been contained, but in other parts of Africa, with much less developed technology and infrastructure, the prognosis is less clear.
In recent years, technology has become increasingly used to assist with natural disasters. In September 2013, for example, Twitter launched Alerts, a feature that warns its users about emergencies, natural disasters and other extreme events at times when other communications services might be down.
Google, meanwhile, has often led the technology response to natural disasters. This included uploading post-tsunami images of Japan to its Street View service, but it has also launched Websites to help relatives find each other, for example, after the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the devastating Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.