How Open Source Helped Beat Ebola

Jason Deign | Cisco | October 19, 2016

The power of open source helped save lives during the Ebola epidemic.

More than 10,000 dead, hundreds of thousands affected, and a world paralyzed with fear at the prospect of contagion. It is hard to fully grasp the impact of the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the valor of those who put their own lives on the line to save the lives of others. But among the countless stories of human tragedy and heroism, it's now known what a vital role open-source software played in supporting doctors during critical times.

Jason DeignWhen doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records made patient care even more difficult. That's because written records could not be taken outside treatment centers for fear of spreading infection and at the time, so little was known about the disease. To come up with a solution, Save the Children International and Doctors Without Borders worked independently to adapt an open-source platform called OpenMRS for use in West Africa.

Doctors in ‘red zones', where infected people were being treated, were given waterproof tablets that could be sterilized after use. They accessed the OpenMRS platform via a specially adapted user interface designed for use with the heavy, gloved suits worn by medical staff. Workers on the outside then transferred the data wirelessly for analysis. Not only did the open-source system help improve treatment and understanding of the disease while it raged across Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, but it now remains in place to deal with future outbreaks and other medical threats...