An app-building platform developed in Israel and abroad may save lives in Ebola-stricken Africa. Snapp allows users to build their own apps without any programming knowledge, directly from smartphones, and that capability enabled volunteers to build an informational app about Ebola in just three days.
Ebola is a deadly disease with a high mortality rate, but it can be prevented with proper precautions. Spreading information is key to preventing the spread of the virus, but in the low-tech parts of Africa most affected by it, information is hard to come by, especially in local languages. About Ebola is now available such languages as Jola, Krio, Liberian English, and Wolof thanks to Snapp.
The app itself is the brainchild of West-African-based company Code Innovation, in response to WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic saying, “What is really important is to inform the population of Guinea and Conakry about this disease, as this is the first time they are facing Ebola. They need to know what it is and how they can protect themselves.”
Assaf Kindler, one of the innovators behind Snapp, told the Times of Israel, “[Code Innovation] contacted us a few months ago about developing an Ebola information app, after they had checked with several programmers and professional app designers, all of whom wanted at least a few thousand dollars to do the work,” said Kindler. “At the time, Snapp was in alpha (development), but we provided them with the platform, even though it was still rough around the edges.”
About Ebola is exactly the kind of app Snapp was made for, says Kindler. “There are other on-the-fly mobile app development platforms around, but all of them require either some programming skills or access to a PC for the development process. We are the only platform that allows users to build an app strictly on their smartphones.
“The vast majority of people in Africa have never used, and perhaps never even seen, a keyboard and a desktop PC system. They made the jump from no technology at all directly to smartphones, and those are the devices they need to be able to develop on. Our tools will, we believe, help enhance technology in Africa, because they allow anyone with access to a smartphone to develop an app on the fly to fix problems.”
The smartphones themselves may also prompt more people to take the information they receive seriously. “In almost all these villages there are at least one or two people with smartphones, and they are very highly regarded, both for their ability to access information from the outside world, and for their acumen in acquiring a device in the first place. So when they tell villagers that they should be doing a lot of washing with soap and water – one of the methods the app lists as a way to prevent Ebola – the villagers are likely to listen,” says Kindler. And it seems to be working; the About Ebola app has already been downloaded 5,000 times.
Snapp is not the only Israeli response to the deadly outbreak. In September, Israel announced it would be joining the effort to prevent the spread of Ebola to as-yet-unaffected countries. As well, Israeli researchers are working towards a more effective Ebola vaccine than the one currently available.