Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

by Internews
Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
Info Saves Lives: Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
The Humanitarian Dashboard
The Humanitarian Dashboard

The last known Ebola victim in Guinea recovered last November, signaling the end of the Ebola crisis - not just in Guinea - but across the entire region. After waiting the recommended 42 day incubation period, Guinea has been declared “Ebola-free.” Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free on November 7th, and Liberia is on track to be Ebola-free on January 14. Health officials are hopeful that no new cases of this deadly virus will develop in the region. Your partnership helped us to get the news and information about the disease and how to prevent it, through traditional media channels, door-to-door outreach, SMS and more, while also enabling us to launch the “Humanitarian Information Dashboard” and the Rumor Tracker, which was critical in helping to quickly collect data about rumors and misinformation surrounding the disease and using the appropriate channels to dispel them. Now, Internews is focusing on helping communities recover.

Special Update: The Humanitarian Dashboard

The Humanitarian Dashboard is here! We’re pleased to announce that the prototype for the Dashboard was completed a few months ago. The “Dashboard” prototype, designed for low bandwidth and with a responsive design interface, was created using funds from GlobalGiving to simplify and automate the flow of information in the context of the Ebola outbreak. (it works like a “Tweet Deck” for humanitarian information)

The prototype was tested in a country field office in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. Here’s an overview of what we created and learned in the process.

Model: The Humanitarian Information Dashboard

The Humanitarian Information Dashboard detects trending issues and conversations in targeted local communities, and identifies rumors, misinformation and information needs as they arise. The software is designed to work with outreach workers from partner organizations and other stakeholders, as well as local journalists, who are trained and mentored by Internews staff to report and respond to rumors and information gaps through various channels including SMS hotlines and information helpdesks.

Information entering the system is categorized and tagged against a variety of metrics including urgency, relevance and location. The Dashboard can also track relevant Facebook groups, hashtags on Twitter, news feeds and influential bloggers, including those from the diaspora, mapping these online conversations and triangulating with the information received from outreach workers, journalists and the community.

The information gathered and processed by the Dashboard is fed back to the humanitarian community in a weekly update that highlights trending issues by community or area, identifies the most prevalent rumors and concerns, provides insights into local and social media coverage, and provides recommendations for addressing the information needs and gaps identified. These updates are compiled and edited for distribution targeting both the local media and locally based humanitarian actors.

Internews will help translate the rumors into relevant story-ideas supporting local media to turn these rumors into appropriate media-outputs, while encouraging local media to become more inclusive and improve participation, to have them fully play their role as “mediators” between the affected community and the humanitarian actors (including local government). The Dashboard will facilitate direct two-way communication with communities, journalists and outreach workers who submit queries to the system. If a rumor or information request is submitted and categorized by the system and a verified response exists, a response via SMS or email is triggered to the user. Eventually the system should direct users to a detailed recorded response generated by journalists and other community leaders and made available to users through a mobile handset.

Experience teaches us that during a time of crisis, when information overload - including information campaigns set up by humanitarian partners - is combined with huge information gaps, presentation is a key-element to make sometimes dry and technical information accessible to large audience. That’s why we aimed to make the Dashboard as easy-to-use, responsive and comprehensive as possible for those using the software.

Why the Dashboard is so valuable

During the development of the prototype, we learned a lot about what makes the Dashboard great and what we can do to improve its effectiveness during the next humanitarian emergency.

The Dashboard is more efficient

  • Reduced manual effort of day to day tasks around information flows and analysis (we used to create these reports manually and feed them back into the media and to humanitarian responders, and this simplifies and automates the process)
  • Improved team coordination opportunities
  • Improved usability and ease of system use contributing to increased productivity

The Dashboard is more effective

  • Increased analysis capability by field teams
  • Improved data or information validity through increased data handling, machine processing and improved accessibility to information
  • Improved information visibility within teams
  • Improved opportunities for communication of complex information issues tailored to core field partners and user groups
  • Improved information reliability and associated trust                                                                                                                                                               

The Dashboard is beneficial to the wider humanitarian emergency response sector

  • Data to support learning between disasters
  • Opportunities for learning through pattern matching and trend analysis from one disaster area to another
  • Improved information visibility and communication within and by Internews
  • An improved ability to identify and share learning, data and tools across the humanitarian emergency response sector in an open and transparent manner
  • Tools to support publication of data and lessons learned to support others working in the humanitarian emergency response sector


Next steps…

We also developed the architectural design and technical implementation of the REST API - a significant foundation for future developments of the Dashboard based on robust scale and connectivity infrastructure. The most important aspect of the Dashboard is that it can be quickly adapted and customized to respond to future humanitarian emergencies. The next step is to scale this to another location and humanitarian context.  We’re currently seeking funding to bring this valuable tool to serve our Humanitarian Information Service project for Mediterranean Refugees we’re calling “News that Moves.” The service provides a daily bulletin of key updates in Arabic, Farsi, English and Greek - of both macro (policy-related) information and hyper-local information about humanitarian services and local conditions, threats, border conditions in countries along the route. We are also tracking information needs and sharing it with the media and the wider humanitarian community. With the right partners, we’re hoping the Dashboard will help simplify and automate this process, as well as detect rumor and misinformation that is often leading refugees astray or into the path of danger.

Thank you again for your support. We learned a lot during the testing of the dashboard, and we’d love to share them with you. Please reach out and contact us if you’d like to learn more or if you would be interested in partnering with us in the next phase of this project.

Amanda Frankel (

The Humanitarian Dashboard
The Humanitarian Dashboard
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"DeySey" Rumor Tracker flow chart
"DeySey" Rumor Tracker flow chart

Thanks for your support! Here’s an overview of our project since you helped us to launch it back in late 2014, from the ground in Liberia:

In late 2014 Internews established the “Information Saves Lives” program in Liberia. Its aims were to investigate and respond to public rumors about Ebola; to train and empower journalists to report accurately about health issues; and to stimulate the exchange of information in response to the urgent Ebola health crisis. Our project has worked to strengthen the flow of information between the public, humanitarian agencies, and the media in Liberia. In particular, through the publication of the newsletters, we have sought to strengthen the quality of communications about humanitarian activities to local media while building their capacity to gather, analyze, assess and report accurate and timely Ebola-related information. In this way Internews has ensured two-way communication and provided Ebola-related information to affected populations, with the support of donors like you.

“DeySay” SMS Rumor Tracker:

Through local media, and through messaging campaigns initiated by governments and international organizations, information on the containment, spread and treatment of Ebola is being provided, but Internews understands that in emergency environments like this one, it is not enough to simply deliver information – one must also listen and respond to the needs and concerns of the affected populations. We call this “two-way communication” and it gives community members a voice while also allowing local media, governments and humanitarians to have a better understanding of the information needs of the community. To be able to do this quickly Internews developed a solution through the “DeySay” SMS system which uses text messages to monitor, track and report on rumors relating to Ebola across different counties. Internews, with technological support from UNICEF, set up DeySay to provide a service to both the media and the social mobilization groups. We partnered with the Liberian Red Cross Society, Project Concern International, UNICEF, Women Campaign International, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNMIL/Human Rights and Protection Section (OHCHR-UNMIL/HRPS) and the Liberia Peacebuilding Office - Early Warning and Response Working Group to try to detect rumors in time and to address them as they arose.  The SMS tracking tool sorted through the conversations and rumors being reported from communities by community health workers, and a weekly newsletter informed local media and humanitarians of the key information trends in their counties, with suggestions as to how to address misinformation and rumor. Many thanks to Reverend Sumo for his support of Internews and our work.

Training and mentoring journalists:

Another element of the “Information Saves Lives” project has been providing support to the most committed journalists through a series of small grants, training and mentoring opportunities. Selected individual journalists and local media houses located throughout the country were thereby given support to produce content aimed at responsible health reporting in the context of the current crisis. The training and mentoring that Internews implemented since the launch of this effort was aimed specifically at encouraging the production of more quality news, current affairs and documentary material in print, radio, and video related to the Ebola crisis. While some of the training and mentoring sessions were held at the participating media houses, others were hosted at the Internews offices in Monrovia. Humanitarian Journalism Trainers and guest presenters worked intensively with the selected journalists. In addition to improving basic journalism skills, these sessions focused on equipping the journalists with accurate and up-to-date information regarding the Ebola outbreak and related psychosocial health issues and helped them to connect with experts and other reliable sources to aid their reporting in future. As part of these training workshops, Internews collaborated regularly with members of the humanitarian and NGO communities who have been willing to address our participating journalists on issues related to the Ebola crisis.

Some of the issues that we have covered include: the re-opening of schools, the ongoing vaccine trials, the psychological impacts of Ebola, Ebola waste management, safe burials, reproductive health, issues of accountability relating to the Ebola response, as well as the recent reappearance of the virus and the admirable efforts to contain it. Internews has also developed and maintained excellent partnerships with various Liberian media civil society organizations. This includes a strong consultative relationship with the Press Union of Liberia, contributing to the judging of the Annual Press Union Awards and collaborating on a number of trainings and roundtable discussions. During our time in Liberia, Internews has also cochaired the Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs and Tourism working group.

A strong, connected network of journalists fighting misinformation about Ebola

The Local Voices Liberia network is one of the most prominent achievements of these efforts. Despite the odds, these journalists have formed an inspiring, optimistic and enterprising network of media professionals that represent all the counties in Liberia, and who have bonded over their motivation to publish good Liberian journalism around the country into the future. While their efforts are entirely initiated within the group, Internews is pleased to endorse their aspirations and encourage you to visit regularly, to see their publications.

The Humanitarian Information Dashboard:

We are getting so close to finalizing the prototype for the Humanitarian Information Dashboard, which will work like a “Tweet Deck” that monitors, tracks and reports out on information flows across all platforms and where all aid agencies, governments, local media groups can participate and benefit from. Our project in Liberia will be the testing ground for the development of the platform, and we hope that once the platform is ready this will become a standard tool that humanitarian organizations, digital volunteers, and local media will be able to use in a variety of situations.

The ability to be able to use and monitor different tools, like mobile phones, mobile apps and social media is becoming more and more important as the ability to collect information on the ground becomes more difficult due to insecurity, structural issues, geography and so on.

To respond to this, Internews is extremely proud to deploy an innovative solution through the creation of a Humanitarian Information Dashboard thanks to funding coming from Global Giving, Google and the Rubin Foundation.


Thank you again for your support. It’s so important that we continue to remain vigilant against this disease, and allow journalists to do the work of informing and empowering communities with information vital to their health and livelihoods. 


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Credit: 2015 by UNICEF/CC
Credit: 2015 by UNICEF/CC

Over the weekend, the World Health Organization officially declared the country Ebola- Free after 42-consecutive days of no new cases. The WHO says this is a “monumental achievement for a  country that reported the highest number of deaths in the largest, longest, and most complex outbreak since Ebola first emerged in 1976.”

There is a long way to go. In the coming months, people will continue to have an acute need for news and information, as children return back to school, survivors re-integrate into communities, and the country’s health systems start to address the challenges of catching up on routine vaccinations (measles, polio) and attending to the many other medical needs (malaraia, TB, HIV treatments) that were put on hold during the Ebola outbreak. And in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the threat of Ebola remains – we know from experience that just one new case has the potential to flare up a new wave of infections – that’s why we won’t stop until we get to zero cases in the entire West Africa region, where the outbreak has hit communities the hardest.

In spite of the challenges that remain, this is a tremendous milestone in our fight against this disease. Take a moment to reflect on your personal contributions to helping to combat Ebola. Your rapid response to our request has made an incredible, life-saving impact. Your donation to Internews allows us to get on the ground quickly to get information out to the individuals and families faced with this crisis. It’s enabled people to make better, more informed decisions about their health, and their lives – including knowing the symptoms, where to access aid, and what to do if they need medical attention. It was all possible because of your support.

Thank you again for your contributions – we look forward to updating you as the situation progresses.

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Information Saves Lives Newsletter
Information Saves Lives Newsletter

The Ebola outbreak is far from over. Tom Frieden, the Director for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says that “the importance of following every single case until we get to zero is absolutely essential.” Until we do, Ebola will continue to threaten the health and safety of communities across West Africa, and could even become endemic to the region. That’s why Internews won’t stop until we hit zero cases. But we need your help to do it.

When you donate today, your donations will be matched, dollar for dollar, but only for a limited time. This is an opportunity to double your donation – and your impact.

We know we aren’t out of the woods yet. New cases are still being reported, and people need information about the disease, how to prevent it, and where to go if they need help. When it comes to the Ebola crisis people need trusted, reliable sources of information.  Rumor and misinformation continue to cause panic, fear and ultimately, exacerbate the outbreak.

Your donations have been making an incredible impact, and funding groundbreaking work that is helping to combat the disease in innovative and effective ways. Anahi Ayala, Internews’ Country Director for Liberia, talks in the article below about how rumors circulate through communities facing this outbreak everyday  — and how information helps combat them. Internews is putting your support to work in communities that need help — and life-saving information — to stay healthy and safe. With your support, we can continue this important work… until we get to zero.

Please make a donation to Internews’ “Information Saves Lives” project and have your donation matched today.


Combatting Rumors About Ebola: SMS Done Right

The rumor began with a fever. On March 4th, in a public school in rural northern Liberia on the border with Guinea, a child was diagnosed with a high fever. Following protocol in a region where Ebola cases remain a concern, the school called an ambulance to take the child for treatment. But when the ambulance arrived, students began to panic and flee the campus. Parents began to frantically connect by phone and a rumor quickly spread to the larger town of Sanniquellie, 35 km to the south.

The rumor?

“People are vaccinating children in schools and the vaccinated children are then taken by ambulance and hospitalized.”

Within the hour, parents throughout the region were rushing to local schools and removing their children.

Luckily, in this case the rumor was short-lived. Information about the panic was quickly communicated to local radio stations who set the record straight, calming the anxious population. The broadcasts were followed up by local health teams who made school visits. The rumor was stopped before it reached the highly populated Ganta school system, another 35 km south of Sanniquellie.

Replicating this system to refute future rumors is not so simple. Rumors spread quickly and generally through word of mouth, SMS and social media—channels that are hard to track and monitor. Rumors that start far from the capital, where most aid organizations are based, can grow out of control very quickly.

Rumors can kill

What is now clear to healthcare organizations working on the ground in West Africa is that the Ebola epidemic has been driven as much by misinformation and rumors as by weaknesses in the health system. It is common sense that information is a critical element in combatting disease, particularly when contagion from common social practices, such as bathing the corpses of the deceased, were central to so much of the early spread of the disease. But in the context of a massive disease outbreak, when hundreds of international organizations and billions of dollars flood into a region whose fragile infrastructure has been damaged by years of civil war, information dissemination becomes a powerful challenge.

In the Ebola outbreak, the international community quickly created a series of wide-scale social behavior change communication campaigns, a typical approach in humanitarian aid. The result was that local populations were bombarded with massive but poorly-coordinated blasts of messaging on billboards, in print, on radio and TV, through health outreach workers and community organizations, via SMS and call-in hotlines.

A preliminary assessment conducted by Internews in November 2014 found more than 300 different types of social mobilization or messaging systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

One thing that was routinely missed in this chaotic information environment was that one size does not fit all.

Local beliefs and attitudes were in some cases a serious impediment to people acting on the messages. Some communities believed, for example, that the bleach sprayed by health workers to sanitize the environment was the government spraying the virus and spreading disease. In other cases, people believed the disease was the result of black magic. In this context, misinformation can spread quickly and along with it, infection and death.

Even for those communities where generic messaging was absorbed, or where there is hope that Ebola is contained, significant challenges remain. People need ongoing information about Ebola prevention and preparedness for future epidemics. They are hungry to hear about situations on the borders and the resumption of trade and commerce. Many parents are fearful of sending their children to schools that were once used as Ebola holding centers and are resisting regular vaccination schedules for measles or polio because they fear Ebola vaccinations.

”DeySay” SMS

In this complex environment, aid workers are grappling with how to get a better handle on rumors, and how to refute them quickly. In partnership with the Liberian National Red Cross Society, UNICEF and Project Concern International, Internews is developing a simple but critical new tool. DeySay SMS (“Dey Say” refers to how people speak about rumors in Liberian English), will detect and manage rumors in as close to real-time as possible.

DeySay begins with an SMS short code, provided by UNICEF free of charge to hundreds of health workers, NGOs and volunteers on the ground throughout Liberia. When anyone connected to the system becomes aware of a rumor, they text it via the short code to a central coordination hub in Monrovia.

The information is then collected, analyzed for trends, and disseminated to local media partners in the field with details about the rumor so they can stop its spread. Once the system is fully functional, aid workers and social mobilizers in the relevant regions will be put on alert so they can go door-to-door to calm anxieties and correct misinformation.

In conjunction with the rapid response system, DeySay also produces a weekly newsletter for local media throughout the country and partners on the ground. The newsletter highlights trends in rumors and their geographic locations, and helps identify the most critical rumors at any given time. The newsletter also offers insights for local media into information gaps and challenges around Ebola and health reporting.

DeySay SMS offers both rapid response to rumors and, over time, will collect and house valuable data that can be analyzed and used to train media and health workers so they can be more prepared the next time the region experiences a crisis. Knowing which areas are prone to rumors, where the pockets of resistance are and how to truly communicate in ways that people can understand is critical not only for combating epidemics but for creating a healthy recovery.


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Aaron Debah, CAAEB, Nimba County
Aaron Debah, CAAEB, Nimba County

Thank you for your support of our project “Information Saves Lives” in West Africa. Without your funding, we could not continue this important work in Liberia and Guinea – ensuring that people, no matter who they are, or where they live, have access to quick, fast and reliable information about Ebola.

To date, the deadly Ebola outbreak has so far claimed more than 9,000 lives. In a public health emergency like this one, people need reliable, trustworthy, and actionable information about the disease and how to prevent it.

While rumor and misinformation are exacerbating outbreak, Internews is working with local media in West Africa to address the urgent information needs of the population, including how to identify early symptoms, prevent transmission, and where to seek treatment.

In Liberia we are on the ground supporting local media, ensuring two-way communication with the affected communities, and facilitating accurate Ebola-related information flows between local media, government and health agencies. A few weeks ago, a massive vaccination campaign began in Liberia. Scientists aimed to immunize 30,000 volunteers, including front-line health workers. We’re anticipating this effort to generate a lot of rumors, also in the neighboring Ebola-effected communities. That's one of the reasons why our team in Liberia is focusing on the border-areas, since these are the places where there’s a lot of movement, combined with lack of accurate information, which we know increases risks. There will be interesting links to be made with our Guinea-Team in Nzerekore, which is close to the Liberian border.

The Humanitarian Information Dashboard

One of the more exciting ways that funds from GlobalGiving are helping us ramp up our efforts in Liberia is through the launch of the “Humanitarian Information Dashboard” which acts like “Tweet deck” for Ebola-related information flows. The platform aims to manage information coming from social media, SMS and other channels such as radio and call-in hotlines. The end result will enable media, humanitarians, CSOs and governments to track and share information, community feedback, and new cases, as well as identify needs, and track trends over-time. We are just in the early phases of the development of this platform, and still are in great need of funding to make this project a reality.

This is where you come in. Please consider making a donation to Internews – if everyone receiving this email donates just $25, that would cover our general expenses for 6 months – making it possible to build and launch the platform and help build healthier, more resilient communities.

In Guinea, the “Information Saves Lives” project has deployed experienced humanitarian journalism trainers in Guinée Forestière, Conakry, and other cities to train media workers in the most effective ways of explaining the disease to local communities and engaging them in the fight against its spread. Our team is currently producing Ebola programs 5 times a week, with actionable “news you can use” that’s keeping families safe by equipping them with the right information. Our approach focuses on using radio, local languages , and direct community interaction and engagement strategies. Our efforts have dramatically increased the amount of Ebola-related content on radio in the capital, in the South East and cross-border into Liberia.

Your donations have enabled us to educate thousands of people and provide life-saving information about Ebola in Nimba County, Liberia

Stemming from the belief that one of the best ways to address the public’s fear of Ebola was education, Community Action Against Ebola (CAAEB) in Ganta, Liberia recently completed a 3-month Ebola outreach campaign, to stop the spread of rumors and misinformation and bring accurate information to their communities. CAAEB’s team of 15 conducted door-to-door outreach in 25 communities in Nimba County during this time. The team estimates that they reached 3,743 households door-to-door, and an additional 3,120 individuals during their long distance outreach into more rural areas.  Executive Director Aaron Debah has been producing radio shows on health issues for two years, and following the Ebola outbreak he began using his air time for Ebola-related programming and discussion. Hot FM 107.9 and Radio Kergeamahn 94.5, the two main radio stations he has broadcasted on, have a listenership of over 20,000 in Ganta and beyond. As a result, radio was an incredible opportunity for Ebola awareness to gain a wider reach. Over the course of the project, the call-in feature became quite popular with the public, and many called in to share their experiences and emphasize the important of continuing to practice Ebola safety measures in an open forum.

To complement the door-to-door outreach and radio activities, the team also flexed their creative muscles and experimented with other ways of building awareness and sensitization. In October, they screened a film about Ebola in the town of Weintein, where it turned out that many had not heard about Ebola. The open air screening drew a crowd of about 700 and the team reports it was a great experience. Another highlight for the team was visiting the Lao Chiefdom in November, a region of Nimba County that unfortunately was one of the most impacted by the outbreak. They brought together people from the three most affected towns of the chiefdom--Leegbala, Glelah and Mongbein--together for their outreach. The team held a live performance of a drama entitled“The Danger of Accepting Stranger in the Midst of the Ebola Virus,” which portrayed how outbreaks can start unexpectely by welcoming strangers into the home. After the performance, the team moderated a Q&A session which allowed the 150 community members in attendance to voice their questions and concerns. The team brought these interactive approaches together in November in a primarily agricultural town called Gbendine. Using a town hall format, they used the film, drama performance, and Q&A session to bring awareness to approximately 750 eager listeners, and reported that the culmination of these activities were “indeed awesome.” The townspeople conducted a tour of their rice farm to thank the team and requested that they continue to build on their relationship.   

Upon completion of the project, Aaron noted that most people truly appreciate face to face engagement and find it easier to digest information when it is presented this way. As of today, the outbreak in Liberia overall has slowed down greatly, but the impacts of the disease remain, and Aaron reports that there is still a need to provide psychosocial outreach services to survivors, their families, and impacted communities as a whole.

Looking forward to the months ahead…

We are encouraged by the steady progress that has been made to combat this disease, and Internews understands the need for the global community to remain vigilant against Ebola until the goal of zero cases is achieved. The epidemic is far from over, and individuals and families continue to have information needs even after the peak of new infections has passed. People will continue to need information about how to manage other illnesses that affect the population, the fears and questions that may result when dealing with burials in the community, and how to address the fact that transport and travel between affected countries is likely to continue – meaning that unless the epidemic is controlled everywhere in the region, Liberia will remain at risk from those who travel. These are just a few examples of information needs – and we need your help to meet them.

By making a donation, you are making an immense impact on the people in Aaron’s community – and those like it, all over Liberia and Guinea. It’s incredible what we can achieve when we all contribute $50, $100, $1,000 – whatever we have, to make a difference, together.

Thank you again for your support.

Interviewing a local member of the community
Interviewing a local member of the community
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Organization Information


Location: Washington, DC - USA
Project Leader:
Amanda Frankel
Washington , DC United States

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