Mobile Technology Provides a Lifesaving Tool in the Race for Ebola Vaccines

January 21, 2015 by John Tippett

Ebola Vaccine Trials

Photo Courtesy World Vision

If knowledge is power, then learning how to avoid infection by one of the most deadly viruses of modern times surely ranks among the most precious of educations. The announcement on January 16 of an ambitious European drive to test and deploy a vaccine against the scourge of Ebola places Grameen Foundation mobile health programs at the center of delivering that life-saving education to the most vulnerable people on earth. It is a challenge we are honored to accept.

While the urgency of effectively addressing the Ebola threat is relatively new, Grameen Foundation has years of experience using basic mobile phones to deliver life-saving health information to at-risk populations in a way that is clear, timely, and leads to positive action. Our programs in West Africa and around the world educate patients and health workers on topics from maternal and newborn care to HIV and malaria. Our MOTECH software platform, deployed and customized with the help of our many partners, leverages the ubiquity of mobile phones to deliver health information directly to those who need it.

MOTECH coordinates information between local residents, health care workers, national governments and global experts to ensure acceptance and uptake of health solutions in some of the poorest areas of the world. When accurate health information is more widely available and citizens make more health-seeking choices, society’s foundations are strengthened. This, in turn, makes families more resilient and more able to move out of poverty.

While the biomedical aspects of deploying a vaccine for the Ebola virus are unique, the mobile health communications concepts and solutions Grameen Foundation will use in this project are ones we have pioneered and delivered in Africa for years. To combat the Ebola virus, our solutions may include sending SMS reminders for vaccine boosters, delivering voice messages which dispel entrenched cultural myths that discourage vaccinations, or creating mobile phone based tools to improve the skills of local health care workers. In all these areas, our work will be informed by what we have learned delivering health solutions in Africa over the past ten years.

The Ebola virus is deadly and (therefore) scary. Over the past 20 years, Ebola outbreaks have been the subject of some of the most heartbreaking stories about the fragility of human life. The challenges ahead for Grameen Foundation and our partners in the effort to promote compliance with an Ebola vaccine regimen are numerous and large.  But our dedicated technicians, field researchers, partners and financial supporters are uniformly confident in our capacity to face these challenges and use our mobile health expertise to help confine the Ebola virus to a thing of the past for everyone in West Africa and beyond.

Knowledge is power, and hope is at the heart of Grameen Foundation’s vocation. We look forward to helping bring some of both to vulnerable people in West Africa.