Hans, Luke, and Leah: Ebola Fighters Honored at White House Grand Challenge Event

Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) honored winners of Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development at a White House event called Innovation on the Edge: Accelerating Solutions in the Fight Against Ebola.

IntraHealth International was one of 15 winners of the Ebola Grand Challenge, selected from a pool of more than 1,500 entries, for its mHero technology. Award winners address a broad range of challenges in the fight against Ebola, embracing both short-term recovery and long-term global response capacity that builds a foundation for resilience.

IntraHealth partnered with the government of Liberia, UNICEF, and others to launch the award-winning mobile platform, mHero, in Liberia in late 2014. mHero is a free communications platform that connects health workers to health officials, to each other, and to critical information that can save lives, using the basic mobile phones that most health workers already have. It offers ministries of health and health workers in low- and middle-income countries a trusted channel of information not only on Ebola, but also on a broad range of health services, including primary care, maternal and child health, family planning, HIV, malaria, and nutrition.

During the White House event, Steven Van Roekel, USAID’s former chief innovation officer, used a Star Wars analogy to laud the efforts of “Hans, Luke, and Leah,” referring to Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute, Luke Bawo of Liberia’s Ministry of Health, and Leah McManus of IntraHealth, for their work in Liberia.

Eric King, innovation specialist with USAID’s US Global Development Lab, said he saw on-the-ground impact from two Ebola innovations, one from eHealth Africa and the other from IntraHealth. McManus played a key role in launching mHero in Liberia, he said.

“Leah was literally squatting in the Ministry of Health’s offices,” King said, “bringing everyone together from different units to help make mHero a reality, and building capacity along the way.”

“The event was a celebration of innovation,” says IntraHealth president and CEO Pape Gaye, who attended at the White House last week, along with Dykki Settle, director of health workforce informatics. “It was truly an honor to be in a room full of such inspired, passionate people, all devoted to developing revolutionary responses to the Ebola epidemic, a crisis that has decimated so many communities in West Africa.”

Gaye feels “proud, yet humbled,” he says, in response to the praise for mHero, and particularly for McManus’s work on the ground in Liberia.

National health officials led the first successful pilot of mHero in the midst of Liberia’s Ebola crisis in late 2014. The pilot achieved a high response rate from health workers, indicating trust in the system as well as ease of response. Over 70% of health workers who received mHero messages during the pilot continued communicating with the system.

Officials are now scaling up mHero in Liberia, and Guinea is making plans to follow suit.

Two-way communication between health workers and health officials can help bring epidemics such as Ebola under control, protect health workers and their communities, and curb future outbreaks, all while strengthening ongoing communication among the different levels of the health system.

Read more: IntraHealth’s Special Coverage of Ebola in West Africa

Photos by Dykki Settle.