The South African based Praekelt Foundation is currently developing an Ebola app in response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The app will include an information service dedicated to how to spot the symptoms of Ebola and deal with them. It is set to be available at the end of the year as part of the Internet.Org suite – a platform backed by Facebook Chief, Mark Zuckerberg, that offers free access via mobile phone to Facebook services as well as Wikipedia and locally relevant apps – and is expected to cater to 330 million people.
During the Mobile Web Africa Conference in Johannesburg on September 10th Praekelt Foundation Head, Gustav Praekelt, said their Ebola app took two days to put together and “it was something we really should have done two or three months ago.”
The app is being developed in response to the lack of reliable information being made available to the public in affected areas. Widespread mistrust of government agencies in rural areas and an understandable desire not to let loved ones die alone in hospital combined with traditional burial ceremonies have contributed to the spread of the disease.
It’s therefore seen as vital to get correct and trusted information out to the public to keep the outbreak in check. While many NGOs, including the Red Cross, are already using SMS and USSD menus to disseminate health information, informing the public is still the biggest challenge faced by agencies on the frontline.
“Access to information is a human right,” said Praekelt. “I used to say that it’s crazy you can get Facebook for free but not health information.”
On working with Facebook, Praekelt said that initiatives like Internet.Org are hugely beneficial. He acknowledged that it’s driven in part as a method of new user acquisition for Facebook, but says that it’s an “amazing opportunity” for people with access to the app and Internet.Org partners. “It allows people to participate and grows the economy and reduces inequality and generally makes the world a better place,” said Praekelt.
The Praekelt Foundation was also recently involved in the MomConnect project, where expectant mothers can register for updates on how to prepare for birth and what they should be doing at critical points in their pre-natal care. “It’s the first ever universal national health initiative of its kind in Africa,” said Praekelt.
Over 10,000 women have signed up in the first two weeks since its launch; the target is 500,000 users by the end of the year.