Little known to the rest of the sector, a crew of open supply software builders performed a small however essential part in assisting to forestall the unfold of Ebola in Sierra Leone, fixing a payroll disaster that became hindering the combat against the ailment.

Emerson Tan from NetHope, a consortium of NGOs working in IT and improvement, instructed the story on the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg, Germany.

“Those guys basically stored their united states of america from whole fall apart. I’m able to’t overestimate how many lives they stored,” he stated about his co-presenters, Salton Arthur Massally, Harold Valentine Mac-Saidu and Francis Banguara, who appeared over video hyperlink.

Tan become dispatched to Sierra Leone in October 2014 with an indistinct mandate: “cross there and improve things.”

The problem that most urgently wished fixing become dispensing wages to healthcare people on the frontline preventing the epidemic.

“Within the vintage system, no one gets paid, for months,” Tan said, which triggered a couple of problems. Medical doctors and nurses were compelled to take money from sufferers, he stated, undermining people’s self belief inside the fitness system at an essential time. And while healthcare people went on strike, Ebola sufferers in hospital quarantines broke out searching for food, exacerbating the unfold of the sickness.

When millions of bucks started pouring in from global resources, it wasn’t clean how to distribute it to the 30,000 healthcare employees needed to tackle the epidemic due to the fact until that factor, payroll had been treated in coins. Tan stated he become occasionally managing “kilograms of money”.

“Once in a while I’d just weigh it, because it’s less difficult to weigh a stack of cash than to rely it.” The usa’s valuable bank at one factor knowledgeable him they have been going to run out of bank notes. On pinnacle of these troubles, there were best 8 ATMs within the whole usa.

Headstones on the graves of children who died from the Ebola virus at a cemetery for sufferers in Waterloo, south of the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown.


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Headstones at the graves of children who died from the Ebola virus at a cemetery for victims in Waterloo, south of the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown. Picture: Björn Kietzmann/Demotix/Corbis
Time turned into a pressing subject. A UN respectable instructed Tan: “we have multiple months, or we’re going to lose the place.”


To solve the trouble, Massally and his group drew on current open source software solutions for payroll management, biometrics, logistics and accounting.

“None of this will be possible without open source software program and frameworks,” Tan advised the audience on the technology convention. “You couldn’t probably expand systems this fast for such low quantities of money without the life of this massive open source atmosphere.”

The group cannibalized Sierra Leone’s present voter registration machines to create a payroll enrollment scheme. They couldn’t use fingerprint biometrics due to the fact it might have created a move-contaminating risk, so they used open source facial popularity software known as OpenBR to enroll healthcare workers.

Then, together with different groups and individuals running in Sierra Leone, they developed a cell money gadget that substituted cellular phone-minutes for coins, and created an automatic payment device.

They completed the center gadget in weeks, going without sleep for days at a time, knowing that millions of lives depended on their paintings.

“I nevertheless have a few fitness concerns from ingesting too much caffeine,” said Massally.

“People have been paid on time, a hundred% of the time”, Tan stated, “for the primary time in Sierra Leone’s records.” As an end result, humans’s faith inside the healthcare machine became restored, he stated, drawing an immediate hyperlink between that and the give up of the Ebola epidemic.

As of seven November 2015, Sierra Leone is taken into consideration to be freed from Ebola. A total of three,955 people lost their lives in Sierra Leone, extra than a third of the entire deaths associated with the 2014-15 west African Ebola outbreak.

This newsletter was amended on 7 January 2016 to clarify a sentence about the creation of an automated payments system, via adding the words “along with other organizations and individuals operating in Sierra Leone”.