THOSE of us who follow international news reports of the impacts of the recently declared COVID-19 pandemic would realise the apparent ease with which the virus infection has been spreading around the world. Particularly worrisome is the observation that persons not displaying signs of the illness are capable of spreading it to others, and compounds the problem of contaminated surfaces helping to spread the virus long after affected persons have gone by! In general terms, our combined health is dependant on the health of other people, unseen, who may be carrying the virus.
In computer networks, one infected computer may cause a computer virus to spread to other machines. Therefore the health of the entire computer network depends on the health of the computers. Although this simple analogy overlooks the role of computer users in helping to spread the virus if they do not follow good computing practices, we still reach the same point: the health of an entire network depends on the weakest link.
In a public health setting, the weakest link might be an individual who is unwilling, or unable, to get the treatment needed to arrest the spread of the virus. This basic relationship with other people gives us a reason and an incentive to care more about each other, and to help each other, to benefit us all.
Although ICT professionals may have a reduced version of this problem by installing anti virus protection on all machines, or controlling physical access to any machine, the same scenario applies. A hapless computer user might cause a spread of a virus, in the same way that a helpless person may cause a virus to spread.
The African philosophy of Ubuntu beautifully describes this relationship as: ‘I am because we are,’ and encapsulates the shared responsibility toward each other. A popular Linux operating system bears this name, which is how I first came to learn of this term.
If we are to survive COVID-19 or any other illness with grave public health implications, the spirit of Ubuntu should reside within us. This allows us to understand some announcements made across the world to help contain the further spread of this virus. For example:
* Organisations (including Google) pledging to pay cleaning and cafeteria staff despite closing offices to limit the spread of the virus;
* Governments (UK) planning to underwrite the cost of daily/hourly paid workers who stay away from work;
* Airlines (such as LIAT) allowing free changes to tickets to encourage the unwell to avoid travel;
* Employees allowed to self-quarantine for 14 days, without the usual HR implications of absences.
It is encouraging and heartwarming that despite the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding the CODIV-19 pandemic, useful and helpful measures which actively promote the care of others can have profound public health implications. In this respect, all industries including ICT have something new to learn. We should all consider plans to actively help others and limit the spread of infections.
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About the Author
Dr. Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant with a background in environmental and resource science. His expertise includes systems analysis, planning, and capacity building.