From Via Satellite
Gisli Olafsson, emergency response director at NetHope, a consortium of 42 top global humanitarian organizations,has been in West Africa as part of the international response to the Ebola outbreak since October 2014. He has traveled between Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, spurring on the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to combat the disease throughout the three countries.
Telecommunications infrastructure, a vital part of any emergency response, is often very basic in rural parts of Africa. Most of the time in these regions, General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is the fastest mobile data network available, while in the absolute most rural areas, there is no mobile signal at all. In an interview with Via Satellite, Olafsson said the influx of responders into affected rural areas has put pressure on already fragile networks.
Fortunately, there has been an unparalleled response by the satellite industry.
While the industry is often called upon to restore communications in the wake of natural disasters, the Ebola outbreak is different in that the affected area is much larger than a typical disaster.
“In a natural disaster you have a path of destruction,” explained Olafsson. “This path of destruction damages the critical telecommunication infrastructure in that area. Here there was no damage of critical infrastructure. The outbreak however affected the entire three countries, including very remote areas with no existing infrastructure. This led to us having to provide services over a much larger area than we have ever had to deal with before. Overall the response community has brought over 250 mobile satellite terminals and over 100 VSATs into the three countries. This is a scale we have never seen before.”
NetHope has been deploying more than 120 mobile broadband terminals such as Thuraya’s IP+ and Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) terminals, as well as more than 50 VSATs. Companies such as Eutelsat and Facebook have also contributed satellite equipment. The majority of the installations have been in rural areas where connectivity was close to non-existent before. This infrastructure is aiding in bringing a halt to the febrile disease’s spread, which can resurface up to 90 days after the last survivor is released. Continue >