Local News

UNC-built website helps Liberian officials track Ebola

Posted September 15, 2014 10:28 p.m. EDT
Updated September 15, 2014 11:08 p.m. EDT

— When the Ebola virus broke out in Liberia, officials in the African country contacted the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for help.

They needed to know the number of Ebola cases in the country and how many residents were dying from it.

“You see those kinds of numbers and it really starts to impact you,” said Steven King, an assistant professor at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication who created a website to track Ebola cases in Liberia.

King built the website along with 10 volunteer designers and developers. The team included students and recent graduates of the journalism school, a student from the UNC School of Information and Library Science and two students from the computer science department in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences.

“The first time we showed (the website) to (Liberian officials), they called back and said ‘Is this right,’” King said.

King said he receives new data from Liberia every few days.

"It's when you see a big jump and it is like, wow, what happened over the weekend,” he said. “And you realize there were a lot of people who died."

As of Monday, the website listed 2,184 Ebola cases and 1,212 deaths.

The website not only helps health workers respond to the crisis, but also illustrate the size of the problem to local and world leaders.

President Barack Obama will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday to receive an update on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The United Nations will hold an emergency meeting on Ebola later this week.

King believes the website has been an eye-opener for Liberian leaders.

"They are happy with it, but they want to see more and they have lots of other questions they want answered and we are trying to do that," he said. 

King hopes to secure additional funding to expand the website to include other countries.