By Kayla Ruble; Originally published in Vice News November 12, 2014 | 6:20 am
In a hotel room in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, a group of technologists and Silicon Valley types have been posted up in what they call the “nerd suite.” Over the last few weeks, they have overseen the efforts of UNICEF’s innovation unit in the country, readying a set of technological solutions to help in the Ebola outbreak response.
Led by technologist and mobile designer Chris Fabian, members of the innovation unit first landed in Liberia about two months ago to bring mobile solutions, both old and new, to assist the government in its fight against Ebola.
On November 3, UNICEF launched a pilot version of a text message-based platform in Liberia called U-report, which will allow young people across the country to access and provide information about Ebola from even the most basic mobile phone. The U-report platform was first utilized three years ago in Uganda, and now has more than 500,000 users across sub-Saharan Africa, but it is new to the West African nation, where more than 2,700 people have died from Ebola since the hemorrhagic fever crossed over the border from Guinea in April.
The Liberian version of U-report was designed with the help of young girls from the impoverished West Point neighborhood in Monrovia, a city devastated by Ebola since the virus arrived in June. According to the World Health Organization, at least 20 percent of infections across West Africa have occurred during the burial process, but Fabian said the women did not want to discuss that topic. Instead, they asked about touching their significant others, how to explain the outbreak to their parents, and whether other Liberians their age were having the same issues.