During Halloween weekend, our team participated in Hack Ebola @NYU, a two-day, university-wide event bringing together technologists, hackers, designers and experts within the NYU community to explore ideas and build solutions for fighting the Ebola epidemic. These solutions were uploaded to the OpenIDEO platform as a part of its campaign with USAID entitled, “Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development.”
The event began on Saturday, November 1 with detailed information from invited experts and videos depicting the extent of the epidemic. By including stakeholders in the crisis such as the There is No Limit Foundation of Guinea, event organizers made participants aware of the realities of working in the field and inspired students and practitioners to come back the next day to form teams and start hacking.
After learning that most affected countries have low smart phone penetration and high illiteracy rates, teams largely focused on SMS- or voice-based solutions and used their technology of choice (e.g. Twilio, Asterisk, etc.) to build innovative application prototypes. Despite their best efforts, many participants during the hackathon were unable to produce prototypes that could be applicable or scalable in the field. This is largely due to a lack of developer-friendly technical infrastructure that can allow international application providers to rapidly deploy SMS-based applications or voice portals in emergency situations.
In an effort to focus on feasible solutions during the event, the GovLab focused on two projects: analyzing OpenIDEO data and aggregating key numbers on Ebola. For the first project, we built a scraper in order to provide metrics for OpenIDEO to analyze project submissions; the data can be found in GitHub. The team also developed a business plan as a result of aggregating global costs related to the continued threat of Ebola. The business plan details the costs behind developing a hypothetical UN-led, global health volunteer corps program in which international health professionals (largely from developing countries) could travel en masse at the beginning of an outbreak to track, transport, and treat affected patients.
Our participation in Hack Ebola is a part of our continued efforts to encourage crowdsourced communities to move beyond passionate discussion toward cross-disciplinary, informed and innovative solutions. We aim to build off the topics and concerns raised from the hackathon and support current efforts at a university level to leverage NYU’s global network of resources and experts in support of the global community of practitioners and problem-solvers fighting this disease.