The Ebola in Liberia website developed at UNC-Chapel Hill to help the Liberian government track the spread of the epidemic currently raging in West Africa.
The Ebola in Liberia website developed at UNC-Chapel Hill to help the Liberian government track the spread of the epidemic currently raging in West Africa. Click photo to visit site.

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UNC-Chapel Hill Associate Professor Steven King and Ken Harper, a professor from Syracuse University, launch a website to do real-time tracking of the Ebola virus in Liberia.

By Hyun Namkoong

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has dominated headlines for several months, and North Carolina became the first state in the U.S. to have a direct connection to the outbreak when an employee of a missionary organization based in the state contracted Ebola in Liberia.

Now the Ebola outbreak has hit home, but in a starkly different way.

The Ebola in Liberia website developed at UNC-Chapel Hill to help the Liberian government track the spread of the epidemic currently raging in West Africa. Click photo to visit site.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication Associate Professor Steven King, a team of students and Ken Harper, a professor from Syracuse University, have launched a website, Ebolainliberia.org, to track new cases and deaths of Ebola in Liberia.

The website was unveiled in a news conference by the Liberian Ministry of Health on Sept. 8.

Ebolainliberia.org uses the most current data on new cases and deaths, and tracks them geographically. Scroll on the map, and a user can easily see which regions of the country have been hit hardest by the virus.

King got involved when Harper asked him to work on the project. “[Ken] called me, and together we started assembling a team,” he said.

The team consists of current and former journalism, library science and computer science students from UNC.

King said the Liberia Ministry of Health and Ministry of Information work together to collect data on the ground to send to the team.

“We take that [data] and adjust that into a database and do lots of other things with it,” he said.

King said they run an analysis and generate the data views to the website. The site displays how many cases are probable or suspected, based on the data provided from the ground.

The website is the primary means of briefing decision-makers, including the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

“Her daily Ebola briefing comes from our statistics, and they’re using it to keep people updated,” King said.

He said that the project is in the process of getting funding to scale-up the site to other countries that have been affected by Ebola.

But the trickiest part of launching the project, King said, is the data collection. Health care workers are most at risk for contracting the virus, but they are needed to collect and send the data to King and his team.

The site splices the data to show how many cases and deaths have been caused by Ebola in health care workers alone.

The Ebola virus has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa, primarily Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.

The first case of Ebola diagnosed in the United States was confirmed in Texas this week by the CDC.

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Hyun Namkoong

Hyun graduated from the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings Global School of Public Health in the health behavior department and she worked as the NC Health News intern from Jan-Aug 2014.

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