How to Eradicate Ebola in 100 Days — Trond Undheim

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Trond Undheim

Stopping the spread of Ebola as quickly as possible is crucial. Several disjointed paths seem to be in motion, both regionally and globally. Last month’s Africa Summit in Washington DC touched on it but did not have all Ministers of Health present, and individual African countries have issued scattered curfews but no effective travel bans on citizens in affected areas. The WHO continues to issue warning statements of varying levels of severity, most recently with a casualty figure of 10,000 deaths, which may not impress those who realize that seasonal influenza kills scores more—so should we not worry, then? Meanwhile, many, especially in Africa, are looking to the WHO for more than predictive statistics. The WHOs recently published 26-page Ebola Response Roadmap makes but a small dent in this disease.

The EU just pledged $180 million to strengthen health systems, train health workers and support mobile labs, but that figure is likely to be a drop in the water. In the US, President Obama recently suggested bringing in the US military for logistic support, which obviously is formidable, although military involvement could be a can of worms. Yesterday, Harvard announced that Morningside Foundation has pledged $350 million to support the Harvard School of Public Health’s campaign to address four global threats: old and new pandemics, harmful physical and social environments, poverty and humanitarian crises, and failing health systems, but this is great news only in the long term. Various NGOs, such as Doctors without Borders, have been on the ground for months doing great work. Some smaller NGOs have done good initial work but have pulled out due to the high risks involved. Finally, experimental drugs have been tried with mixed success on westerners who’ve contracted the disease and there’s now the suggestion to use blood transfer from Ebola survivors as a desperate, last resort vaccination.

These are all scattered approaches not working in unison, much like the state of global governance as a whole. As a result, none of them appear to be working, or could backfire. Whilst this might be stating the obvious to keen observers of the international scene, it is worrying for two reasons: one, Ebola in its current manifestation is a unique threat that has not been contained like many pundits reassured their governments it would be. Two, it invites a reflection on what would happen if terrorists started planting pandemic viruses around the world. We could perhaps protect New York and London because they are not surrounded by extreme poverty acting like sanitary time bombs, but what about shantytowns around the rest of the world’s megacities? Or, is this really just a problem in collapsed states? That would be only slightly less worrying, given how quickly order can collapse at a local level, as seen in Ferguson, Missouri, in the heart of the United States.

The perplexing reality is that as much as we’d want a technological, political or medical fix to the issue, the real threat appears to be related to trust, divergent hand washing practices, family protective instincts mixed with shame, and the fact that people travel freely around. These are not easy issues to fix. There is no agreement on how to influence such things. It is not even clear it is morally right. But there must be a fix. And the fix must be here soon, at the speed of a software patch from an IT vendor under hacker attack. We are not on government time, with a virus we are on Internet speed.

It is against this backdrop that Yegii’s crowdsourced 100 days project, Eradicate Ebola in 100 Days, will explore solutions to the world’s Ebola problem from the medical, technological, political, business model and population dynamics angles. Yegii is an insight network and the definitive resource for a world re-shaped by technology, where companies and professionals meet to tackle challenging business issues across all domains. Yegii is shaping the way people will interact with knowledge online by allowing them to focus only on the facts that matter.

Yegii is looking for a small team of contributors, calling on medical personnel, infectious disease specialists, Ebola survivors, relief workers, technologists, data scientists, pharma industry players, policy makers, Africa experts, academics, MBAs, social scientists, and healthcare consultants to solve this worldwide challenge.

The key questions to resolve are: What are the concrete steps that would eradicate Ebola in 100 days? Who needs to agree? Who must implement? The deadline to contribute to this challenge is 26 September 2014.

Findings will be made available to the public on Yegii.com and will be given to the WHO, US, EU and relevant African governments, and will furthermore be sent to major pharma players, startups, and NGOs. Institutions interested in co-marketing or sponsoring this challenge (see press release), can contact info@yegii.com.

The only way to eradicate Ebola in 100 days is to bring together the people who have the breadth of expertise to see the whole picture. No existing organization has this capability. Yegii’s insight network does not just crowdsource knowledge but it provides a process to reach actionable conclusions to stop Ebola.

Can Ebola be eradicated in 100 days? For our own sake, we’ve got to try.

Trond Undheim is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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