Here's How The Incoming USAID Tech Guru Plans To Fight Ebola

Jack Moore | | October 2, 2014

Ruggedized tablets, belt-worn printers and a high-tech alternative to the stiflingly hot protective gear health-care workers must wear when dealing with patients.  Those are some of the technology tools the incoming chief innovation officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development says he plans to explore to combat the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.  Steven VanRoekel, the former federal chief information officer, starts Monday as the administration’s digital point-man in the response to the crisis.

Much of the technology VanRoekel is interested in pursuing is “point-of-care technology," he said Thursday at the GeekWire summit in Seattle.  For example, last Friday USAID issued a grand challenge to private sector innovators to come up with an alternative to the plastic suits health workers are required to wear when administering to patients or cleaning up contaminated areas.

“They weren't made for Western African summers, which we're approaching right now,” VanRoekel said. “Doctors I've talked to have said that they can spend about 20-40 minutes in the thing when they need to work about 12-hour shifts on these floors in these treatment centers.”  Right now, USAID is experimenting with body-worn sensors to get a baseline of a comfortable temperature “so we have a target for these innovators to shoot at,” he added.  The agency is also looking at improved communications between care workers and the public...