Using technology in the battle against Ebola
October 8, 2014
When we heard a few months ago that the Ebola epidemic was worsening in West Africa and the media reported that the number of cases was doubling every three weeks, the response from my manager, Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, was: “We have to do something. We can’t let this go!”
Together with Jeffrey Sachs and his health team from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Ericsson started working on a solution to empower community health workers in West Africa in the fight against the virus. This has involved supplying more than 1,000 mobile phones to health workers in communities affected by Ebola. Even sourcing the phones was an employee driven effort with donations from colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa. Apps with information on Ebola prevention and treatment and a survey tool have been installed on these phones.
We offered our colleagues an opportunity to volunteer to pre-program the phones with the necessary apps and make a positive contribution to this worthy effort, and I was appointed to lead this action.
Immediately after my appointment had been communicated to the employees, I received several requests to volunteer. An important step for me was to quickly set up the core team and the plan as we waited for the phones to arrive directly from the factory in China. With support from colleagues working with facilities and security, we set up workstations in four buildings around the Ericsson campus , where the health apps could later be installed on the phones. We had to have everything ready by the time we received the phones, which also meant printing out posters and instructions.
As the phones will have local SIM cards, the apps had to be downloaded from an external site, which meant we had to provide Wi-Fi access to facilitate the downloads. I appointed a team of volunteers at each site, and their imagination and skills made a big difference. For example they set up a hotspot at every site, which enabled everyone to download and install the apps easily.
The response to our efforts proved so overwhelming that external suppliers were also interested in participating. A contact person from a UN agency even came to Ericsson’s headquarters to see what we were doing, and he described our action as “impressive.”
I was amazed to see how colleagues , who didn’t know each other and who came from various backgrounds and different departments, were sitting at the sites working together in a great atmosphere. And this proved to be a great case for every team builder: for example, we expected to complete the installation phase with volunteers dropping in over a period of three days. But with so many inspired volunteers, we completed the action within four hours.
All 1,000 phones now have the health apps installed, and they are ready to be shipped out to UNICEF for deployment to community health workers in Guinea.
This effort really captures the essence of Technology for Good – bringing our technology leadership and the expertise of our employees to help meet a global challenge.