These Hackers Are Developing Apps To Stop The Spread Of Ebola In West Africa

Daniel A. Medina | Quartz | October 10, 2014

The rapid spread of Ebola in West Africa has blindsided foreign governments and international aid organizations since its outbreak six months ago. One group of university researchers and hackers at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the US think they may have an answer to help stem the outbreak.  The Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory at the university’s Virginia Bioinformatics Institute is holding a hackathon this week, “The Computing for Ebola Challenge.”

This isn’t your typical hackathon with pie-in-the-sky ideas that rarely see the light of day. It has brought together at least 80 programmers from inside and outside the university to scramble through highly sophisticated synthetic data sets provided by the US Department of Defense (DOD). The data offers hackers a virtual representation of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea—the countries with the highest number of Ebola cases—including population and mapping data.  The goal is to create tangible, easy-to-use web apps for residents in these countries to use in emergency response situations.

One that’s already in the works, explains doctoral student Caitlin Rivers, is a mobile app where a user who feels he is suffering from Ebola symptoms could send a text to a public health agency to report themselves sick. In turn, the agency would send a specially outfitted vehicle-free of charge-to safely transport the individual to a hospital or critical care center, as to not spread infection...