Tech Response to Ebola: Zuckerberg, Microsoft & Open Source

Microscopic view of the ebola virus

The fight against Ebola is saddening the international community and drawing the attention of big names in the tech industry. Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg have donated $25 million to the CDC to fund Ebola research, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen (also owner of the Portland Trail Blazers) has thrown in $9 million. Microsoft has offered its cloud technology to researchers, and open-source maps are being used to fight the spread of the disease.

Let’s take a look at each of these stories, evidence of the incredible promise technology represents in the search for disease treatments, cures, and outbreak responses:

  • Mammoth gifts from tech billionaires
  • Microsoft offering to researchers
  • Open-source mapping to outpace Ebola

Mammoth Gifts from Tech Billionaires

Paul Allen, who owns the Portland Trail Blazers and co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates, gave $9 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on September 14, earmarked for the battle against the disease.

The CDC was assumedly chosen because it is a powerful body that can potentially respond to the outbreak more quickly – since charitable givers have grown increasingly frustrated by slow relief responses to disasters, such as occurred after the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

The CDC notes that the 2014 Ebola epidemic is unprecedented, with verified cases in numerous nations of West Africa. The positive news from the CDC site is that the medical community has been successful at containing the spread of the disease in Senegal, Nigeria, and Liberia, so it is unlikely that the virus will spread in the USA (although clearly precautions are necessary).

The CDC is collaborating with other federal agencies, the World Health Organization (WHO), and various other groups to expedite a smooth and powerful counteroffensive against the virus. The Centers, which together serve as the American national public health institute, has also sent professional health advisers to the region and will continue to do so as the threat of the disease continues.

The September gift was actually an increase of a previous donation. Allen gave $2.8 million to the American Red Cross targeted toward Ebola in August, when he also created a $100,000 “matching grants” program through GlobalGiving.

Paul Allen is not the only tech billionaire to use their financial capital to wrestle with the disease. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave $25 million to the CDC Foundation on October 14. The grant will be issued through their account at the nonprofit Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Microsoft Offering to Researchers

The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, recently received horrible publicity for making completely clueless comments about women in the workplace at an event primarily attended by women. In a gaffe that Mashable called “so stunningly off-base, it may well be career defining,” Nadella stated that a “superpower” women have is their ability to stay quiet and believe the system will benefit them as it should. Rather than asking for a raise when they think they deserve one, they should use their superpower of passivity: “That’s good karma. That’ll come back.”

After that ridiculous episode, Microsoft was in dire need of some positive press. Wisely, the tech company decided not to have Nadella awkwardly apologize in isolation or make some other empty gesture, but instead build his apology into the introduction of a cloud project to assist with Ebola efforts. Specifically, Microsoft Azure is being made available to anyone in need of computing power to further research and disaster relief related to the disease.

Following a presentation in which he discussed the Ebola project and various changes to the Microsoft ecosystem, Nadella noted that his comments were “insensitive” and that Microsoft would seek out and remove any internal barriers to pay equity.

Open-Source Mapping to Outpace Ebola

SciDev.Net noted in September that it is critical to understand geographical trends related to the spread of Ebola, which is why two disaster relief specialists are combining satellite images with open source maps to meet the need for instant location data. SciDev.Net highlighted a project by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), which integrates GPS data related to important variables of the epidemic – most obviously the location of active cases – for a better visible understanding and more educated strategies to contain it.

You can look at the map provided by HOT (some of which is in French) to see where it has been contracted, local problems related to disaster relief, and the activities of humanitarian groups.

Map legend

  • Green – medical checkpoints, aid groups, physicians
  • Black – fatalities
  • Purple – media coverage
  • Yellow – possible cases
  • Blue – recoveries from the virus
  • Red – political protests.

Cutting-Edget Technology Could Stop Suffering

The extent to which cloud computing opens possibilities for disaster relief and medical breakthroughs is staggering. I often cite a statement made by Geoffrey C. Fox, PhD, of Indiana University: the cloud is frequently faster than a supercomputer. Combine speed with access, and you have the potential to end many cases of human suffering. Find out which one of our guaranteed cloud options is right for you today.

By Kent Roberts