Video: Pardis Sabeti on Open Sourcing the Ebola Virus Research

“When Ebola broke out in March 2014, Pardis Sabeti and her team got to work sequencing the virus’s genome, learning how it mutated and spread. Sabeti immediately released her research online, so virus trackers and scientists from around the world could join in the urgent fight. In this talk, she shows how open cooperation was key to halting the virus … and to attacking the next one to come along. “We had to work openly, we had to share and we had to work together,” Sabeti says. “Let us not let the world be defined by the destruction wrought by one virus, but illuminated by billions of hearts and minds working in unity.”

Watch the video here:

An excerpt from the transcript, chosen by Sharon Ede:

” ‘In the early part of the epidemic from Kenema, we’d had 106 clinical records from patients, and we once again made that publicly available to the world. And in our own lab, we could show that you could take those 106 records, we could train computers to predict the prognosis for Ebola patients to near 100 percent accuracy. And we made an app that could release that, to make that available to health-care workers in the field.

But 106 is just not enough to make it powerful, to validate it. So we were waiting for more data to release that. and the data has still not come. We are still waiting, tweaking away, in silos rather than working together. And this just — we can’t accept that. Right? You, all of you, cannot accept that. It’s our lives on the line. And in fact, actually, many lives were lost, many health-care workers, including beloved colleagues of mine, five colleagues: Mbalu Fonnie, Alex Moigboi, Dr. Humarr Khan, Alice Kovoma and Mohamed Fullah. These are just five of many health-care workers at Kenema and beyond that died while the world waited and while we all worked, quietly and separately.

See, Ebola, like all threats to humanity, it’s fueled by mistrust and distraction and division. When we build barriers amongst ourselves and we fight amongst ourselves, the virus thrives. But unlike all threats to humanity, Ebola is one where we’re actually all the same. We’re all in this fight together. Ebola on one person’s doorstep could soon be on ours. And so in this place with the same vulnerabilities, the same strengths, the same fears, the same hopes, I hope that we work together with joy.

A graduate student of mine was reading a book about Sierra Leone, and she discovered that the word “Kenema,” the hospital that we work at and the city where we work in Sierra Leone, is named after the Mende word for “clear like a river, translucent and open to the public gaze.” That was really profound for us, because without knowing it, we’d always felt that in order to honor the individuals in Kenema where we worked, we had to work openly, we had to share and we had to work together. And we have to do that. We all have to demand that of ourselves and others — to be open to each other when an outbreak happens, to fight in this fight together. Because this is not the first outbreak of Ebola, it will not be the last, and there are many other microbes out there that are lying in wait, like Lassa virus and others. And the next time this happens, it could happen in a city of millions, it could start there. It could be something that’s transmitted through the air. It could even be disseminated intentionally. And I know that that is frightening, I understand that, but I know also, and this experience shows us, that we have the technology and we have the capacity to win this thing, to win this and have the upper hand over viruses. But we can only do it if we do it together and we do it with joy.

So for Dr. Khan and for all of those who sacrificed their lives on the front lines in this fight with us always, let us be in this fight with them always. And let us not let the world be defined by the destruction wrought by on.”Photo by poptech

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