It was September 25th, another news clip of the Ebola epidemic passed by as I gave my old friend Ivan at MSF a call. I was sitting in an office in Nijmegen with Koen as we were cranking code for our startup Whitespell. At this point, Ebola had already cost thousands of people their lives, and cases were popping up left and right.
Ivan introduced the very serious threat of Ebola to me and told me that Jay Achar, an MSF doctor, had a brilliant idea to have some sort of local tech infrastructure to support the doctors. After a few hours of brainstorming and designing, we had a pretty good idea that this was really going to happen. I remember a very specific quote that Ivan and I laugh about nowadays:
Pim, I’m going to be honest with you, there’s a very high likely hood that this project will not be used by MSF, it’s not something we usually do.
Gil Julio and his brother Daniel joined our team and we booked the first flight from Amsterdam to London. We had called our good friend Dan Cunningham to scrape up a team of volunteers to join us as we take on this challenge. Ironically, Koen (who is still a student) emailed his professors for permission to join us and take a few days off school. All good…(thanks professor for letting us fight Ebola).
One of the best memories I have is spending the entire day walking through London with equipment, trying to buy a large tablet that we could use. Incidentally, we stumbled across the Sony Xperia Z2, which is waterproof. We were actually looking for a Nexus 10. Another one that reminds me of our dedicated team was this video of us celebrating a team member’s birthday while hacking with us.
Ivan Buendia Gayton, who is the most humble and bright guy I’ve met, has worked for Doctors without Borders for more than 10 years. Ivan and his team saved many lives. He’s a great example of how MSF volunteers dedicate their life to humanitarian aid and never ask for anything in return. Dan, Koen and I decided to name this project after the only true hero we had in our team at the time: Ivan.
Ivan, Dan and I met at Geeklist #Hack4Good where we worked together on relief for Typhoon Haiyan, which is where we built Status.ph, an app to find resources in real-time after a disaster hit.
As we were racing the clock with Ebola, A team of brilliant volunteers came together in London, where we were allowed to hack on this project for a couple of days. With the assistance and feedback of MSF doctors, we created a simple prototype that we could use to pitch the idea to the MSF Headquarters in Amsterdam. Google had since then got air of the project and started participating on a deep level.
Stef van Grieken (A Google Product Manager) and Ivan joined me to MSF Amsterdam in late October as we opened doors to further expand this project with our tablet and prototype in the very busy time of the Ebola outbreak.
Ka-Ping Yee and Ken Krieger from Google (Who have both been key to the success of this project) joined our project full-time at this point. We further developed a prototype that we would demonstrate for a pilot a few weeks later. We succeeded; MSF Accepted a pilot in a treatment center in Kailahun.
After it became clear that this project was really going to happen, Google Product Manager Ganesh Shankar instantly moved from Australia to London to support this project. He brought some brilliant software engineers on the team and we started developing the product that would be deployed in West Africa. Thanks to Google this project made it as far as it has, these guys are absolutely brilliant.
Build, Test, Repeat
Months of active development followed where we faced really interesting challenges. Luckily we had such an experienced party like Google on board, who was able to work through everything with us. We actually used the Design Sprint Method to be specific. The most challenging aspects were designing for users in PPE (usually your users don’t wear double latex gloves, goggles, and yellow moon suits), ensuring that no data gets lost, and building something that Doctors would want to use in a heartbeat. Thanks to the help of the Doctors, logisticians, and Google we eventually built something that they would actually want to use.
Just over a month ago, after months of hard work and the amazing support of all the parties involved, we deployed a working version of the system to West Africa. We ended up building a tablet to replace the paper charts in Ebola treatment centers. The tablet is Ebola-resistant and can be disinfected in a 0.5% Chlorine Solution. There’s a video that shows what we’ve built here.
While Ebola is still a serious epidemic, we really hope that this solution is ready when a next epidemic hits. It helps doctors work more efficiently and it’s a really good way to collect better data and treat patients better.
It was an incredibly humbling experience and we’ve all been super fortunate to have a team of such dedicated people on board.
“Although we have just treated the largest cohort of Ebola patients in human history, we still know distressingly little about the progression of the disease. It will take many months to file, organize and analyze the data we have collected. Now that the technology has been developed and successfully trialed, we know that data will be instantly ready for both analysis and patient care in the future.” — Ivan Gayton
There are many ways that you can participate in projects like this. Not only programmers, but also UX-designers, product managers, and many more are absolutely necessary to make projects like these happen.
Project Buendia is now open source, and if you wish to collaborate you can stay updated at http://projectbuendia.org.
This project was an absolute team effort. Here are the awesome people that were involved. If I forgot anyone, send me a message!
- Gil & Daniel Julio (Co-founder, Android developers)
- Koen Vendrik (Co-founder, Whitespell UX Designer)
- Daniel Cunningham (Co-founder, UX Lead)
- Emmerson Tan (Initial hardware designs)
- Corinne Pritchard (UX Design)
- Jonathan Morgan (Mechanical engineering)
- Sander Latour (Software Engineer)
- Pim de Witte (Co-founder, Initial tech lead, Software Developer)
- Impact Hub
- London Hackspace
- Mark van der Linden (Volunteer-tester)
- Ivan Gayton (Co-founder, Logistician)
- Jane Grieg (Epidemiologist)
- Jay Achar (Initiative taker, doctor)
- Ka-Ping Yee (Lead Software Engineer)
- Ken Krieger (Hardware & Infrastructure lead)
- Ganesh Shankar (Product Management)
- Adam Kalachman (Software Engineering)
- David Chen (Android Engineer)
- Nick Fortescue (Software Engineer)
- Nicolas Defranoux (Software Engineer)
- Henning Meyer (Software Engineer)
- Fabian Tamp (Software Engineer)
- Steve Crossan (Product Management)
- Nigel Snoad (Product Management)
- Stef Van Grieken (Technical Program Manager)
- Isabella Pighi (Technical Program Manager)