Can social media help contain Ebola?
Foreign Policy - 09/04/2014
Patrick Sawyer, Nigeria’s first Ebola patient, collapsed at the international airport in Lagos on July 20. This Wednesday, more than six weeks later, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was monitoring at least 200 Nigerians for infection related to Sawyer’s case. Sawyer, a Liberian-American who had traveled from Monrovia, had carried the often-fatal disease to Africa’s most populous country, hundreds of miles from its origin. It was as if he had slipped through a crowd.
Fortunately for the people of Nigeria, crowds leave traces, even when the individuals within them disappear. As Ebola spreads, some epidemiologists are beginning to analyze those traces to guess where outbreaks might occur. They’re not only gathering data from diseased neighborhoods and hospitals. They’re also using sources like flight data, Twitter mentions, and cellphone location services to track the disease from afar. Researchers, in short, are sifting through the detritus of mobile lives to map the spread of an unprecedented outbreak.