According to the World Health Organization, the Ebola epidemic in Africa has sadly claimed the lives of an estimated 10,000+ people. The epidemic appears to be slowing down thanks to countless numbers of volunteers, medical personnel, and organizations that rushed to the scene to thwart the spread of the virus. M©decins Sans Fronti¨res (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, was one such organization that responded with various medical professionals, and support staff to West Africa.
Wired has reported on the efforts of Dr. Jay Achar who was working in West Africa in Sierra Leone. Achar became frustrated with the issues and limited resources that faced medical staff that has responded to the area. The problem was, that doctors would put on highly protective suits to help keep them safe from infection. These suits are severely hot, and after about an hour of working in them the heat can become almost unbearable. To make matters worse, in order for doctors to treat a patient, they would first have to gather information that is valuable to the treatment of the patient. They would then have to walk to the edge of the tent and “yell” the information to another person standing outside the fence since none of the paper that doctors like Achar used could leave the tent. With only a limited amount of time available to a doctor wearing a protective suit, you can see the issue. Doctors did not have the proper amount of time to spend with their patient. Something had to be done, and Dr. Jay Achar took action.
He contacted a colleague Ivan Gayton who also works for MSF, to see what could be done. Ivan Gayton decided to contact Google, who had assisted him before during a cholera epidemic, to see if they could help. Google.org, which is Google’s charitable organization, sprung into action by tapping its Crisis response team. This response team gathered resources and personnel together from around the world and brought them to London to work on the project. The result was an Android tablet that ran on top of open-source software and constructed out of a polycarbonate material. The polycarbonate material allows the tablet to be dipped in chlorine and sanitized so that it can leave the facility. This table is used to take information and send it wirelessly to servers located at the scene. These servers are run by a generator for power, as some of the places that MSF responds to do not have electrical power.
Another doctor, Dr. Eric D. Perakslis of Harvard Medical School and who has been following the project is planning to assist MSF to open source the project so that everything from the software to the hardware to the code can be used to combat other medical issues and epidemics where there is a large threat of the spread of disease or infection. It should be noted that the team used a medical records tool called OpenMRS, another open source medical documentation software. This tablet has help save many lives by allowing doctors to have all relevant information for a patient and allowing them to save time by providing a fast way to make medical documentation and notation of a patient and their condition. Google and MSF stepped up to the plate and made an innovation that others can use and build upon to help those who need it and keep the world safe from the brink of the next major medical outbreak. It is not a matter of if, but when that happens, doctors will be ready, tablet in hand, to help those who need it the most.