The world is facing an unprecedented Ebola virus outbreak, as well as the MERS virus in the Middle East and many other infectious disease related public health risks. Can Telecom Applications Developers contribute to life-saving solutions with API-enabled SMS, IVR and toll-free numbers? Telecom Application Developers may have a unique ability to rapidly interconnect the necessary human resources needed to help save lives at massive scale. Telecom and Internet networks are key to connecting the public, government agencies, medical professionals and NGOS. Some of the tools they may employ include Contact Centers, Enhanced Emergency Services protocols, SMS, IVR, big data, connected devices, and Mobile applications.
Contact and patient tracking is a vital part of an epidemic response. The WHO estimates that for each infected person, there will be ten people they come into close contact with that would need to be monitored for 21 days. Contact Centers and Hotlines will play a significant role in this. In Ohio, the state government has already established a contact center to handle Ebola related-calls and patient tracking. They were able to do this so quickly in large part due to virtual contact center technology and VoIP. Similarly, hotlines have been established in West Africa for those experiencing symptoms or needing more information; they are able to call emergency numbers “117” in Sierra Leone, and “115” in Guinea.
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has set up interim protocols for PSAP and first responders, including a modified call query protocol to help EMS and CDC quarantine stations safely.
As the epicenter of this crisis in countries with extreme poverty and correspondingly low levels of telephone and Internet service, mobile networks are the main resource. Therefore, SMS based reporting systems may be the most ubiquitous telecommunications tool.
Mobile operator Orange Telecom has reportedly turned over large amounts of anonymized data from its operating companies in West Africa to data scientists in order to help track patterns that may indicate outbreak trends. Epidemiologists also monitor the data from social networks to glean insights. Projects such as HealthMap.org, founded at Boston Children’s Hospital by a team of medical professionals, and software developers apply software algorithms to publicly available Internet communications data to track infectious disease outbreaks.
More and more people are adopting the use of connected devices to manage their fitness. If for example, a fever is a key indicator to track on a macro scale, developers in the future may be able to leverage crowdsourced biometric data.
In developed countries where smartphones are prevalent, free apps have already been developed that are used to monitor outbreak information. Social networks such as Facebook have rolled out emergency notification features that might be employed to pinpoint and track cases, as well as help quarantined patients stay connected with their communities.
Doing our part
Voxbone supplies local telephone numbers from 52 countries, delivers calls, texts and faxes to these numbers globally over a private data network and provides powerful APIs to the Telecom Application Developers Community to tie in our service. We also have a WebRTC beta underway which offers developers a framework for implementing global voice services that connect web browsers to SIP enabled infrastructure.
Voxbone has since 2011 provided free interconnection and peering services for the United Nations OCHA (Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ) for their +888 country code, assigned by the ITU to OCHA for disaster relief communications. Carriers that have not yet interconnected with +888 are invited to contact us to start the process, which has no cost or other obligation.
A quote attributed to Peter Thiel, the futurist venture capitalist expresses dismay with the banality of the technology industry: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” IP Communications has perhaps enabled a new era in human history. Now is an especially important time for the tech industry to give back to society.
Looking forward to hearing your ideas at the TADSummit.
By Hugh Goldstein, VP Strategic Alliances at Voxbone