An Ericsson Response story – helping to contain Ebola in West Africa
Editor’s note: As part of our series celebrating Ericsson Response, we are happy to feature a post by Senior Systems Engineer Ester González De Langarica, one of many Ericsson Response volunteers to have played a direct role in helping to halt the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.
Soon after I joined Ericsson Response in 2005, I was sent to Pakistan to help assist with the relief effort after a devastating earthquake there.
I lived in a huge UN camp in the town of Muzzafarabad together with many other humanitarian workers. I had some fears about being in an earthquake disaster zone and a lot of adrenaline pumping through my body. But after two or three days, it started to feel like normal work.
Since that first mission, I have been deployed with Ericsson Response several times: the Central African Republic, Haiti, Philippines and, last year, Sierra Leone as part of the Ebola crisis response.
Of course, I had some concern about the Ebola virus, and friends and colleagues at home were worried. In fact, some people were a little uncomfortable meeting me when I came home in case of infection. We got lots of information from the UN before we deployed about how to be careful, and the risk of Ebola for us was actually very low. And once you’re there, you forget about the risks anyway and get on with your job, even though bad stuff does happen, like when I got dengue fever during the 2014 Philippines typhoon mission.
The need for communications in an emergency response is not questioned nowadays. For example, the first humanitarian response teams into an emergency zone assess what type of support is needed. They then need to report quickly how many resources are needed in terms of staff, shelter, medicine, food, etc. And this need continues long after the crisis has begun. There is no other way to effectively meet this need than via ICT.
In Sierra Leone, this information flow was especially important. The aid workers there had to deal with so much data, which was collected locally across the country. This was then sent around the world for analysis and to spot patterns in the spread of the disease. Internet provision was a basic need for these organizations to do their work, just like normal companies.
During my month in Sierra Leone I helped erect antennas and maintain internet connections at the different disease control centers located around the country. This involved being on the move every two or three days.
I joined Ericsson Response because it felt like a natural fit with my existing telecommunication engineering skills and my desire to do humanitarian work. It feels like a unique opportunity to be able to combine my regular work in Ericsson with the emergency response missions, all within the same company. Now that I have more experience, I see that while our work doesn’t directly save lives, it does help aid workers save lives.