GeoPoll is a mobile survey platform with the ability to collect data from hard-to-reach places during times of crisis. GeoPoll has a database of 200 million users throughout Africa and Asia, and conducts surveys through free-to-user SMS messages, allowing anyone with a mobile phone to respond, even if they do not have a smartphone, mobile data, or airtime credit. During the Ebola outbreak of 2014/2015, GeoPoll has worked with various partners to collect data remotely from areas in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea which cannot be accessed by on-the-ground researchers. Other GeoPoll projects related to Ebola include food security surveys with the World Food Programme in all three countries, health communications work with Johns Hopkins University in Liberia, and assessing on the ground perceptions of the disease in Sierra Leone with Keystone Accountability.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa had an immediate impact on the lives of many in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea when the crises began in summer 2014. Hospitals and health care facilities shuttered as nurses and doctors became infected with the disease, and quarantines imposed in the hardest hit areas led to closed roads, schools, and markets. The closure of roads and introduction of checkpoints made it difficult for many workers to travel to their jobs, with the agricultural industry especially hard hit. This led to a quick rise in prices of goods in markets, as the availability of basic goods such as rice and potatoes dropped.
In partnership with FHI360 under the USAID funded mSTAR project, the USAID Bureau for Africa was looking to assess the long-term economic impacts of Ebola on communities in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Areas they were interested in included employment, transportation costs, and food costs. Specifically, USAID wanted to look at how income levels were changing over time as the Ebola epidemic progressed, the general state of personal finances of those in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and how food prices changed. Other areas of interest included type of employment, employment length, school prices, and perceptions of sending children to school. Due to quarantine and the difficulty of sending on-the-ground researchers into Liberia and Sierra Leone, USAID and FHI360 needed a way to collect robust data quickly, through remote methods.
USAID and FHI360 turned to GeoPoll to collect ongoing data in Sierra Leone and Liberia through SMS messages sent to the GeoPoll database of 1,844,100 in Sierra Leone and 1,615,200 in Liberia. Surveys were conducted weekly for rounds 1-5 of data collection, bi-weekly for rounds 6-10, and every three weeks for rounds 11-13. Each round of data collection included 1000 completed surveys from each country. The sample was pre-stratified by gender and location to provide the best regional coverage. Surveys ran from January 4th through June 27th. The ongoing nature of the surveys allows USAID and FHI360 to see trending, longitudinal data on the long-term effects of Ebola on the economies of Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Results demonstrate that the economic situation is different in Liberia and Sierra Leone. In Liberia, results show positive income movement since January, with more respondents reporting that their income has risen since the previous week. However, in Sierra Leone, there were only three consecutive rounds of data collection (February 9th through March 9th) where more respondents reported their income had gone up, compared to those who reported it went down or stayed the same.
Results also show that income has fallen since June 2014, the start of the Ebola outbreak. A year later, in June 2015, 32% of respondents in Liberia and 45% in Sierra Leone reported that their income had fallen by more than 20% since June 2014. Results also show that in Liberia, about half of respondents have consistently reported having to reduce expenses due to a limited income. In Sierra Leone, about 2/3rds of respondents say their income is so limited they have had to reduce expenses. In Sierra Leone, only about 10% of respondents have reported making enough money to be able to save.
Farming is one of the most important industries in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Liberia, farmers reported a shortage of agricultural labor from 4/20/2015 to 5/28/2015. In Sierra Leone, all rounds of data collection have shown a shortage of agricultural labor to harvest crops.
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