Satellite Bulletin: Satellites and the fight against Ebola

By Joanne Wheeler, Astrid de Longvilliers


Since the first reported case of Ebola Virus Disease in December 2013 in Guinea, there have been numerous international efforts to try to limit the spread of this highly contagious and life-threatening disease and reduce the number of people diagnosed with the illness. International assistance has come from various sectors and industries, with the satellite industry playing an unprecedented and unparalleled role in the fight against the outbreak of Ebola.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an international emergency for the epidemic in August 2014, and a couple of months later, on 9 October 2014, the International Charter for Space and National Disasters (Charter) was activated to assist with the response to the disease. The Charter is an international agreement between space agencies which provides free satellite images in the immediate aftermath of natural or man-made disasters. Although it has been used in response to 400 disasters in over 100 countries, this is the first time that it has been used for disease surveillance.

Surrey Satellite Technology are supplying satellite images to provide updated maps of areas of West Africa, identifying locations which have been infected and highlighting the best routes to evacuate people. Eutelsat is providing satellite connectivity for medical staff and volunteers in West Africa - in areas where there was little or no existing communications capacity. Communicating directly with a Eutelsat satellite, broadband equipment to improve connectivity solutions for humanitarian organisations has been deployed in West Africa to assist in the fight against Ebola.

This has seen the delivery of videoconferencing services, Internet access and voice communications, in areas which previously had little or no connectivity, in order to provide assistance to aid workers. The terminal equipment can be self-installed, operational within two hours and easily relocated to follow the relief organisations.

The successful use of satellite technology in combatting Ebola no doubt means that it will be increasingly used in the future to fight public health emergencies, both internationally and at a national level.