Fighting Ebola with mobile technology in Liberia

/ Ebola crisis, Liberia, 20 November 2014

In any emergency, you need real-time information. You need to know where to get help, how to act and who to contact. Responding to the Ebola emergency is no different: how do people obtain the vital information they need?

Unicef’s U-report system enables young people to access vital information and services using a simple mobile phone.

A simple solution to connect young people to resources can be a vital tool in a country like Liberia, where infrastructure problems prevent information from moving. U-report gives young people access to basic information on Ebola prevention and on services available near them. It also allows youth groups or others at a national level can see the trends most important to their peers.

But in order to be effective, systems like U-report need to resonate with local communities, which means they need to be adapted locally. The technology is the easy part – the hard part is making a system like this work the way people do. In Liberia, U-report has been adapted and built up with the support of some of the greatest and most persistent problem solvers in the country – a group of adolescent girls in the West Point neighbourhood of Monrovia. Together, they’ve helped Unicef customise and deploy the tool to help fight against Ebola in Liberia.

Young people in Westpoint gather new user data on paper during a system outage. Part of the roll-out process includes identifying potential glitches in the system

Young people in West Point, Monrovia, gather new user data on paper during a system outage. Part of the roll-out process includes identifying potential glitches in the system.

The initial launch of Unicef's U-Report in November relied on adolescents recruiting other young people to use the technology.

The initial launch of Unicef’s U-Report in November relied on adolescents recruiting other young people to use the technology.

Unicef is working with young people to customise the U-Report technology to reach their peers more effectively. this includes rewriting questions so they resonate with a younger audience.

Unicef is working with young people to customise the U-Report technology to reach their peers more effectively. This includes rewriting questions so they resonate with a younger audience.

A group of young people in Liberia are briefed before they set out to raise awareness about U-report, a mobile-phone based health information system. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2014-2093/AHMED JALLONZO

By November 2014, more than 4oo people had registered to become U-Reporters in Liberia, and the number continues to grow. The technology allows them to speak out about what is happening in their communities and provides them with useful information so they are empowered to work for change.

Learn more about Unicef’s work to tackle Ebola in West AFrica

All photos © Unicef/2014/Jallonzo

Comments

2 responses to “Fighting Ebola with mobile technology in Liberia”

  1. Nancy Kiplinger says:

    It seems from its name that U-Report would allow young people to also report suspected cases of Ebola, but this article does not mention that. Does U-Report allow the young people to do this?

    • Thanks for your comment Nancy.

      The World Health Organisation has been given the mandate by the UNMEER (UN Mission Ebola Emergency Response) for the clinical care and monitoring of Ebola Virus Disease patient numbers. In addition, WHO is responsible of the health and nutrition response of this emergency, including diagnosis and disease monitoring.

      UNICEF, on the other hand, has been requested to lead on community engagement including the community care centres and behaviour change.

      UNICEF’s U-Report system uses basis SMS (text messages) to ask questions and provide information to kids through mobile phones.

      To the questions “what has changed the most in your community because of Ebola”, 69% replied that closing of doors disrupted their lives the most.

      As you’ll be able to see, the purpose of the launch of this U Report was to get a sense of the perception of adolescents regarding Ebola and not a system to report suspected cases.

      Hope that helps answer your question. Thanks for your interest in Unicef UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *