Throughout the history of civilization, episodes of rampant outbreaks of communicable diseases have threatened humanity. Education of the public has evolved from the primitive word of mouth to the unharnessed social media of today. Prior to the twentieth century, communication to the masses was dependent on the slow and cumbersome verbal message and limited print media. Because of this, educating the public on public health concerns was very ineffective. Current technology is instrumental in the overall management of public health.
The recent Ebola outbreak has demonstrated the essential role of technology in evaluating and monitoring the disease, as well as communicating to the public the pubic health risk. Throughout the course of history, there have been several notable epidemics, which have threatened the existence of mankind. Small Pox, Yellow Fever, Polio, and Ebola are a few of the most devastating diseases (Healthline Editorial Team). There have been different approaches to controlling the diseases based on the availability of the technology during the particular time period.
History will show that the technology used for the management of Ebola is exponentially greater than any prior efforts. During the 1700’s, weeks and months passed before anyone realized that entire villages had been destroyed by disease. This was best illustrated by the Smallpox epidemic. While a caption was traveling the shores of Discovery Bay, he found “a seemingly unlimited supply of salmon and freshwater, but … strikingly few people.. and several human skulls, and other bones, promiscuously scattered about” (Fenn).
It was several weeks before the captain could communicate the findings back to health authorities. The authenticity of these reports was often questioned. The uncertainty about the information lead to an ineffective approach to the containment and treatment of the disease (Fenn). In a short amount of time, the Smallpox epidemic lead to the death of 300 million people in the 20th century (Flight). Smallpox management contrasts very differently from the management of Ebola. Ebola is a viral disease that is extremely infectious and has a death rate up to ninety percent.
The virus outbreak begins due to the ingestion of bush meat from animals or from fruit bats; therefore, people who live near tropical rain forests are more likely to come in contact with these animals and consume their meat. Ebola initially has similar symptoms to the flu. It begins with a sudden fever as well as muscle and joint pain, but develops into “Vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, internal and external bleeding” (This is the Worst). Ebola has been a fatal illness that has affected hundreds of people at various times.
The Ebola Virus Disease first occurred in Yambuku and surrounding areas in 1976, killing 280 (88% of the total cases). Since 1976, Ebola has had thirty-one relatively small outbreaks (no more than 250 people died) (Outbreaks Chronology). In February of 2014 reports of Ebola began to surface and spread without bound. The outbreak has significantly been worse than any before and is believed to be the worst outbreak in history (This is the Worst). In March of 2014, 15,935 cases were reported from multiple countries in West Africa.
The Ebola subtype, Zaire virus, killed 5,689 people (36%). The numbers have only continued to increase due to the ongoing investigation (Outbreaks Chronology). As of December of 2014, a total of 6,128 people have died (2014 Ebola Outbreak). Everyone is asking what is the solution to the vicious virus, and until scientists develop a cure for the virus, the public health officials must rely heavily on technology to monitor the disease and educate the public. Technology has played a central role in the management of Ebola.
When the first cases of Ebola were confirmed, government and medical officials knew that they must communicate with citizens of their country and surrounding counties the horrific news, so people could take precautions to protect their health. Communication has been a vital asset in helping to stop the disease, “in our highly connected world” (How the Tech). People are working together from several different places around the world to raise awareness and collect information to eradicate the spread of the disease.
First, investigators are tracing the outbreaks with mapping and geolocation. When a person is confirmed to have contracted Ebola, health professionals respond by “tracing all contacts that an infected person has been in touch with” (Timo Luege). Finding all of those people and communicating with them the situation is a very difficult task, especially in undeveloped countries. To make the search less complicated and more efficient, The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team created a mapping program to trace all of the cases since the start of the response.
Secondly, investigators “gather Ebola information with digital data collection forms” (Timo Luege). Community workers interview numerous people and collect information, using digital forms to conserve time and avoid errors. Thirdly, workers relay the information with the individual’s family by using nearby Wi-Fi. The patients in quarantine are provided a computer or an inexpensive cell phone to stay in touch with their family, so they may be reminded why they are fighting for their life. Fourthly, text messages are used to send and receive updated information about the crisis.
SMS systems are created to send frequent information to particular groups and individuals, so they can always be in the know about the most recent information, without having to check the news (Timo Luege). The TechCrunch believes “the best way to drive immediate, exponential change in communities ravaged by the Ebola virus is to work with technology that is already accepted by its ecosystem such that as voice and SMS on featured phones” (Muah). Fifthly, translators Without Borders is working to provide awareness in countries where there is a language block.
TWB workers are going to countries and are making posters in the local language. Lastly, social media is a non-expensive and widely used source of technology that has benefited the Ebola outbreak. In today’s society, most everyone has a device that is connected to their social media, which they spend hours a day checking. Even large health organizations are using social media, such as the WHO and the CDC, to connect with people and correct misinformed people who are spreading false information.
Because of modern technology, information and research can be shared quickly to help end Ebola and other outbreaks (Timo Luege). Although the positive benefits of technology tremendously outweigh the negative, there are still negative repercussions that technology and social media produce. Many people believe that the media is over exaggerating the scare of Ebola in the United States. A man from Columbia’s Mailman School of public Heath explained that “‘the coverage is a little out of proportion to the nature of the threat that we in this nation actually face'” (Mulholland).
Statistically, “the risk of contracting the disease in America is 1 in 13. 3 million, less than the risk of being killed in an airplane crash, from a lightning strike, from a bee sting, or by a shark” (Mulholland). Over two-thirds of the country are extremely concerned about the outbreak and are taking precautions that aren’t necessary. For example, a Texas community college rejected two Nigerian students simply because of their nationality. The college denied any student from a country affected by the Ebola outbreak.
The extraordinary amount of attention that the outbreak is receiving is obviously going to cause people to be fearful. The media psychology program is arguing that some news reports have announced misleading information about the outbreak, and they are doing it to keep the public intrigued, but it is only causing people to be fearful. The news is confusing fear with the facts, and they are making comments about Ebola maybe becoming air-borne, which cannot happen (Mulholland).
There are potential negative ramifications of technology that can cause unnecessary fear, but the benefits of technology are more likely. After researching previous epidemics, it is clear that public health providers need to pursue innovative methods to protect humanity. Although social media is frequently condemned, its ability to rapidly and efficiently educate the masses cannot be overemphasized. However, after seeing the deaths of thousands of people from Smallpox and other epidemics, it’s evident that the modern technology has the potential to save lives that otherwise would be lost.
Civilization has made incredible advancements in technology, and scientists need to continue to pursue and develop technology to protect public health from future epidemics. Works Cited “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa – Case Counts. ” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 05 Dec. 2014. Fenn, Elizabeth A. “The Great Smallpox Epidemic. ” History Today. History Today, 2003. Web. 06 Dec. 2014. Flight, Colette. “Smallpox: Eradicating the Scourge. ” BBC News.
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