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Tech's Take on Ebola

Washington DC Tech

Is the Ebola outbreak a problem that tech can solve? One DC area company says yes.

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Magpi’s mobile data collection tool is in demand by organizations working on Ebola in Africa and the handful of cases in the US. Co-founder Dr. Joel Selanikio says at least five organizations, including the DOD, have contacted the DC-based company about using its product to collect info about people potentially exposed to Ebola. Joel, here with co-founder Rose Donna, says the technology collects info via a mobile phone or tablet rather than keeping track of a stack of papers. And many people in African countries have mobile phones. The technology works on smart phones or cell phones, whether they're online or offline.

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Joel and Rose started the company in 2003 after he worked as a CDC outbreak investigator and she worked on tech for the Red Cross. They came together with the idea that technology could replace the traditional clipboard and paper. Magpi grew quickly to 33,000 users, including most health-focused organizations like the World Health Organization and UNICEF. But it’s also now being used by construction, energy and utility, and research companies. The private sector and larger organizations pay a yearly subscription, and those organizations without the funds get a free version.

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Joel says the 12-person company, which recently changed its name from DataDyne, is working on new features like being able to take photos as part of the data collection and the ability to read RFID tags for supply chain management. Most of the company’s employees are in Nairobi, where Joel and Rose have been able to find quality programmers. (This group was part of a Randon Hacks of Kindness hackathon.) So all the company’s tech development is in Nairobi and business development and accounting are in DC.