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How Software Developers Helped End the Ebola Epidemic in Sierra Leone


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Freetown, Sierra Leone on Dec. 11, 2015, less than a month after the country was declared free of Ebola.

A team of open source software developers played a small but integral part in helping to stop the spread of Ebola in Sierra Leone, by solving a payroll crisis that was hindering the fight against the disease.

Credit: Bjrn Kietzmann/Demotix/Corbis

A team of open source software developers helped solve the urgent problem of distributing wages to healthcare workers on the front line fighting the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone received millions of dollars from international sources and it was not clear how it would be distributed, considering payroll was handled in cash. The developer team drew on existing open source software solutions for payroll management, biometrics, logistics, and accounting.

The developers cannibalized existing voter registration machines to create a payroll enrollment scheme. They could not use fingerprint biometrics because it would have created a cross-contaminating risk, so they used open source facial-recognition software called OpenBR to enroll healthcare workers. They also developed a mobile money system, which substituted cellphone minutes for cash, and created an automated payment system.

The team built the core system in two weeks, and NetHope's Emerson Tan says the people were paid on time. He believes the developers' efforts helped restore faith in Sierra Leone's healthcare system.

From The Guardian
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