VanRoekel Talks Firsthand Of Ebola-Plagued West Africa

Billy Mitchell | FedScoop | December 3, 2014

Steven VanRoekel, about two months into his detail as chief innovation officer of the U.S. Agency for International Development and its battle against Ebola, recently spent seven days in Ebola-stricken Liberia. Despite painting a disastrous and bleak picture of a region crippled by the epidemic, VanRoekel did say, in some ways, things were beginning to return to normal.

“A region that was really the shining star of the continent on economic growth, on education — on so many things that were happening here, they’re now seeing stalled,” he said during an Information Technology Industry Council event Wednesday in Washington, D.C. However, while he was there, “they lifted some of the emergency status of the country, some of the curfews were lifted, restaurants were starting to open back up.”  From his technology- and innovation-focused perspective, though, VanRoekel said the region’s response efforts are crippled due to a lacking communications infrastructure.

“The miracle of the Internet is [that it's] the backbone by which we build all innovation and all connectivity, and it’s just not there” in West Africa, he said. VanRoekel said the region reminds him of his time working with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates in India in the late ’90s, one with IT potential waiting to be unlocked...