Our Singularity Hub article, "How Mobile Technology Can Bring Trauma Relief After Ebola"

Code Innovation founder Nathaniel Calhoun and I co-wrote an article for Singularity Hub about how mobile technology can be used to bring relief to people living with complex trauma in communities affected by the recent Ebola outbreak. You can read the piece here. It explores recent donor-funded projects that seeks to ameliorate the mental health of affected communities and profiles our own Community Mental Health app project, for which we're actively seeking funding.

Please get in touch if you'd like more information by emailing us at info@codeinnovation.com.

Community Mental Health


Community mental health program in Liberia by Second Chance Africa (www.codeinnovation.com) The Washington Post recently profiled Chris Blattman's research into the economic and security benefits of therapy for at-risk youth in Monrovia, Liberia in "Jobs and jail might not keep young men out of crime, but how about therapy?". The gatekeepers of the psychiatric industry are losing power and a much-needed variety of healing will quickly become accessible on a global scale.

It bodes well for individuals, families and communities everywhere that psycho-social services are starting to be democratized. When people assumed that therapy or counseling required one-on-one time with a highly trained specialist or a regular supply of expensive proprietary drugs, emotional support was effectively a luxury (and, indeed, it has been routinely satirized as such with bored and wealthy TV characters gobbling pills from their indulgent therapists).

Bold new approaches to therapy are delivering powerful results for incredibly low costs, indicating that psychosocial services may soon become available to the hundreds of millions of people struggling with the effects of trauma.

Our partners, Second Chance Africa, pioneered a group therapy approach in Monrovia for ex-combatants that ran over five years, eliminating symptoms of trauma in 60% of the people who went through the program. We’re currently looking for funding to help digitize the curriculum that made this possible and to create an open source mobile resource for Community Health Workers to facilitate group therapy sessions of this variety.

We’ve got a rigorous, clinical monitoring and evaluation protocol lined up that leverages the expertise of PHD candidate Jana Pinto, who studies at the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the Sydney Medical School, at the University of Sydney. And we’ll be testing the approach simultaneously with culturally diverse members of the refugee community in Sydney to gauge the effectiveness of our content and method for a wider audience.

If you’re interested to help make this happen, contact us at info@codeinnovation.com.

Why Our Ebola Hackathon Index is Very Sad


About the Ebola Hackathon Index (www.codeinnovation.com) A few weeks ago, Code Innovation was approached and asked to contribute a short video on content and challenges to an Ebola hackathon.

Hackathons, if you’re not familiar with them, are short, focused events where coders, makers and innovators of all kinds come together to create solutions around a given problem or challenge. In this case, they are a great way for those of us far removed from the Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to imagine ways of contributing to the ongoing response.

We declined this request because we’re too far removed from the emergency response at this point to be able to provide anything but the most basic of context. We sent them this article on Tech Crunch, “How the Tech Sector Can Help Stop Ebola,” and told them to read every story that Buzzfeed’s Jina Moore has filed from Liberia.

But we reached out to a few of our friends in Monrovia to see if they’d be keen to contribute. “How many Ebola hackathons are there?” one asked. We wondered too.

A quick Google search lead to 10 Ebola hackathons that had happened or were planned for the imminent future, and we started to get curious. Were these groups aware of and coordinating with each other? Were they sharing valuable resources from the field, so that people on the ground weren’t besieged with constant requests for videos and other material?

Two weeks ago, we cataloged the list and wrote to each and every one of them. We sent them this:

"We are a West Africa-based technology company that works in countries now facing the Ebola virus outbreak. We are working on mobile behavior change communications and other responses, and in the last few weeks we have been approached by different ‘Ebola Hackathons’ and asked to share information about context and challenges.

"After consultation with our colleagues who are working directly on the Ebola response in the field, we learned that many of us have been approached by many different Hackathons, and as a group we wondered if the Hackathons were sharing information with each other, both in terms of information they were getting from the field and in terms of outcomes.

"So, at Code, since we’re not as busy as our colleagues who are in Monrovia right now, we thought we’d ask on behalf of our colleagues and friends. And, to make things easier on everyone, we thought we’d create a place where different Ebola Hackathons can learn about other Ebola Hackathons and post outcomes of their work. Even better, maybe some of the groups will find others interested by the same outcomes and start to work together, making their efforts that much more effective and likely to impact the situation on the ground.

"We made this: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit?usp=sharing

"Please feel free to create yourself a worksheet and add outcomes, contact details, and whatever else you would like to share about the process. We will be sharing this document with our colleagues in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

"Thanks in advance for the collaboration and cooperation."

Two weeks ago, we got a handful of replies. “We’ll use the spreadsheet — great idea!” one group responded. Another asked us if we could make them a video and we told them to ask other Hackathons for materials they could share and use.

Since then, not one of the hackathons have posted in the spreadsheet. No one has posted materials to share amongst the group. No one has shared outcomes or listed a point of contact where other hackathon hosts — or people wanting to support and work on solutions together — can learn more.

I don’t know what to tell myself about why this is. I work in international development and I’ve lived in Liberia. I care intensely about the place and am deeply proud of my friends and colleagues who are working on the response. I know they’ve been inundated with “please send our hackathon a video” requests, and I know from experience that many of them wanted to respond. Unfortunately, whatever responses were offered to these different events have not been shared in the way that we in the open source community like to see.

I’m sharing this here in a hope that other Hackathons take the document and use it to coordinate amongst themselves—or replace it with a collaborative environment of their own creation that we can promote on their behalf. I don’t see the ones on the list paying any attention to the basic tenants of collaborative cooperation and open source. But here’s hoping this changes their minds and that we can actually work together — instead of just saying we are.

Here is our open Ebola Hackathon Index: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1K1E-82Fy5k9jbI_2FfRnIDjK7knUqXvM6s53TvMbTn0/edit#gid=0

Releasing our "About Ebola" App in African Languages


West African mobile health "About Ebola" app in English, French, Wolof and Jola (www.codeinnovation.com) Sarah Joy via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

I was listening to BBC on the hotel TV getting ready to teach an evening yoga class to African feminists at a leadership conference in the Gambia. "Ebola virus" already meant something to me: I was a youngster in Nairobi when the Ebola virus first showed up in East Africa.

I saw 'Outbreak' and after SARS, it was my deepening interest in pandemics and outbreak emergencies that took me to Johns Hopkins University, where I got my MPH. Fast forward a few years, and here I am working from Dakar, Senegal at my small start-up tech company with my husband.

"Ebola is from East Africa," I remember thinking to myself as I grabbed my yoga mat. "What's it doing here?"

Frankly, the long incubation period -- of up to three weeks -- concerned me

and I quickly did the math. The thing about viral outbreaks and epidemics is that most people don't really understands exponents. It's hard to convince a group of people of the power of hitting an exponential curve; that kind of math gets dizzying too quickly.

Code Innovation, for the last couple of years, has been exploring digital learning and developing educational apps and our first one comes out later in the summer. After the yoga class I Skyped with Nate, when he suggested, "Why don't we make an app in African languages to tell people about Ebola?"

As soon as he said it, I knew he was onto something. During outbreaks, rumors spread faster that public health information and steps must be taken to actively inform and empower the public and to keep them out of a fear response, or panic. Rumors in northern Nigeria in 2004 about the true intent of UNICEF-administered polio vaccine are a perfect example; polio was headed towards eradication and now it’s around again. The cause? The spreading of bad information.

One of the things we like about digital technology is its ability to scale exponentially. Information wants to be free and open, I reasoned, so why not help information about Ebola virus spread?

Our friends from last summer at Singularity University have been working on a platform that enables people to quickly and cheaply produce a variety of simple mobile apps. They call it Snapp and they volunteered to program our app. From there, we made the Ebola app in just two weeks, but we could have been faster.

Here's how we made the About Ebola app.

Ebola virus graphic designed by artist Fouad Mezher for our free About Ebola informational mobile app

1. We decided it was a go.

For the first few days after I returned to Dakar, we monitored the pulse of Ebola without acting on our idea. It actually took us a few days to get our heads

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around the fact that we could create and make something like this and get it out into the world to be of service to other people. It seems weird to admit to that, but it's true.

Within a few days of starting the project and observing the outbreak potentially spreading to Mali, Sierra Leone and Ghana, we still weren't sure that making an About Ebola app was something we were able to put our time to. Although we tracked the news, I felt separated from the crisis and put off doing anything about it.

Looking back, this hesitance is something I wouldn't have accounted for. Part of it was getting my head around the fact that Ebola was around at all, and that it was a risk and a reality for people around me too. So there was also numbness I had to get over, in processing and integrating the reality that this is happening. Once I saw my resistance and moved through it, then

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it felt energizing and exciting to say yes to the project.

English About Ebola virus mobile app for public health outreach and emergency communications response (www.codeinnovation.com)

2. Getting the content.

We used the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Global Alert and Response (GAR) page on Ebola virus disese (EVD), the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Ebola Hemorrahagic Fever and the CDC's Infection Control for Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers in the African Health Care Setting to inform the content, which is divided into sections "Do This," "Don't Do This," "What is Ebola?" "Do I Have Ebola?" and "What More Can I Do?"

To make sure everything was correct, I called in a U.S. public health expert who has experience in government-level and regional level epidemic control. I also had an expert in epidemiology and public health communications have a look.



3. Build.

Part of the menu from the English "About Ebola" app

We mocked up a prototype on FluidUI.com and our colleagues at Snapp said they could turn the app around in less than two days.

Snapp is a mobile application builder that empowers you to build your internet ideas with no need for technical knowledge required, for free, and from your smartphone. We think they're super cool.

They also offered tremendous flexibility around updates and strategies for recuperating expenses with mobile ad revenue—this took away the stress of trying to make everything entirely perfect and complete for the initial launch. We plan to iterate and improve upon this product as we would any other tech initiative.





Wolof About Ebola mobile app for public health outreach and emergency communications response (www.codeinnovation.com)

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4. Translations.

Within 12 hours of finalizing the content, we had French translations from a professional I work with regularly, who volunteered to work for free.

We figured it would be easy to reach out to our Dakar networks and find a paid or willing-to-volunteer professional. Our plan was to have a handful of African languages, but to publish with whatever translations would prove fastest and easiest to get.

Getting local language translations was the most difficult part of the processes. The organizations, networks and colleagues I reached out to were unable to hook us up with African language translators. We reached out to people asking them to pass our request on to their professional networks, but our emails got us nowhere, which was unexpected.

Wolof About Ebola virus mobile app for public health outreach and emergency communications response (www.codeinnovation.com)

We had been looking for health professionals to be translators, because of the importance of getting precise about the vocabulary involved. After a few days had passed, though, I started scrolling through my phone to find a responsible and capable friend. When she said yes, she brought Wolof and Jola (or Diola, in French) to the table. Then our colleagues at eMobilis in Nairobi stepped up to get us translations in Swahili.

After amassing the content, 100% provided by volunteers, we worked through the technicalities of launch and got our publicity and promotional strategy in place.

5. Launch.

From getting the translations, it's only taken a day to turnaround the app, and here we are. Now, there is an app where people can learn about Ebola and how to prevent and contain the virus.

With the help of our friends, we have made an outbreak of viral hemorrhagic fever less scary for anyone who accesses this information. And while it will take time to find out where and how frequently our app is downloaded, one additional benefit of this information being presented on smartphones, is that the individuals who possess this technology tend to enjoy a slightly elevated level of prestige and clout, especially once they are out in deeply rural areas. We’re hoping that this means that a few well-equipped individuals can use the materials in the app to reach a large number of their friends, family members and neighbors.

Another thing. Although the "About Ebola" app has content in Wolof and Jola, because these West African languages are not yet language categories on either app stores, they are

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listed (!) under English and French. West African languages can be accessed in the app's drop-down menu, FYI (and just for now, we hope).

The "About Ebola" app lives on the Google Play store for Android here.

The "About Ebola" app lives on the iTunes Store for Apple devices here.

Too bad the Apple Store takes weeks to approve a new app. We can only conclude that iOS isn't very good for emergencies and wait for the link.


We are sharing these steps because, with digital technology, your message can reach out like this too, directly to the people you want to reach. Sure, Ebola virus may have burned itself out, but if it hasn't, now you can download an app to learn the facts about the virus in your local language. That makes me happy.

You’ll notice, also, that we cut out the time-consuming steps of fundraising and formal partnerships. If ad revenue compensates us, in some small way for our time, that’s great. But this sort of thing is becoming possible to pull together faster and cheaper than ever before. What do you want to build? What are you waiting for?

I hope that you enjoyed hearing about our project. We could not have done it without Snapp and our volunteers Foaud Mezher (who created the artwork), Connie Johnson and Michelle Skaer (public health expertise), Beatrice Clerc (French translation), Fatou Jobe (Wolof translation), Lamin Goudiaby (Jola translation) and eMobilis (Swahili). Much love.