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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC team tracks Ebola stats with website

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the gender of the president of Liberia. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a woman. The story has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

“The data tracks the number of cases of Ebola, the number of deaths and the breakdown of the cases that are probable, suspected, and confirmed,” said Alison Blaine, a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science.

Blaine is on the Crisis Development Team for the website, which launched Monday.

“After reading the news about the Ebola outbreak, and knowing how urgent the crisis was — when I received emails from Professor King about an opportunity to assist the government of Liberia — I definitely wanted to help with the project because of its importance,” she said.

Steven King, a professor in the journalism school and development director for the website, said about 10 students and recent graduates are involved in the project.

He said the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism of Liberia reached out to his colleague Ken Harper, a professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, who asked him to assist with the project.

Harper said when the Liberian government asked him to help, he quickly thought of partnering with King, who immediately wanted to help.

“God has blessed me some talents, and I am happy to share those with other people if they can stop their suffering and less people have the disease,” King said.

King said the goal of the project is to provide information for the public and key decision makers.

Casey Miller is the senior developer of the project. She graduated from UNC in May and is currently working at the Wall Street Journal.

She said the website was submitted to the President of Liberia quickly so she could take advantage of the information before the official launch.

The information on the website is important because it will reduce public fear of the disease, Harper said.

“Without information, it’s even more terrifying if you don’t know what’s happening, so we are doing our best to empower people with information and work collaboratively to provide solutions,” he said.

The website’s data is provided by Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and Ministry of Information in partnership with Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the situation in Liberia is getting worse, Harper said it’s important to finish the project as soon as possible. Next, the team will integrate the data with a system provided by the Center for Disease Control to update in real time.

King said he hopes the data will eventually be able to predict where the disease might move next and prevent its further spread.

“We are looking for new funding opportunities to be able to expand the size, make it to go to all other countries with the disease as well as to be able to add some features to do some predictive modeling,” he said.

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