While you are sending an email or surfing the web, your computer could be helping to tackle one of Africa's greatest humanitarian challenges, malaria. Africa@home, a multi-stakeholder project involving ICVolunteers, was launched publicly on 13 July 2006. It is recruiting volunteer computers in homes and offices to run a computer-intensive simulation program called MalariaControl.net, developed by researchers at the Swiss Tropical Institute.
Malaria is responsible for about a million deaths every year in sub-Saharan Africa, and is the single biggest killer in children under five. The MalariaControl.net program is being used to simulate how malaria spreads through Africa. Running the simulations on thousands of volunteer computers will enable researchers to better understand and improve the impact of introducing new treatments.
To install MalariaControl.net, volunteers just need to download the necessary software from the Africa@home website, which will do the scientific calculations in the background, while they are doing something else. The results are regularly returned to a server at the University of Geneva (4), so that the researchers can evaluate them. Already, in a first test phase over several months with 500 volunteers, Africa@home was able to run simulations equivalent to 150 years of processing time on a single computer.
A key objective of the project was to involve African academic institutions in the development of the software. Thanks to the efforts of NGOs ICVolunteers (5) and Informaticiens sans Frontieres (6), researchers from the University of Bamako in Mali and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie in Bamako and in YaoundÃ©, Cameroon, were able to join the project team, which was based at CERN (1). They were funded by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN) (7).
Speaking about the results obtained so far, Prof. Tom Smith of the Swiss Tropical Institute said Africa@home and volunteer computing really open up new horizons for us scientifically. We have already done more epidemiological modelling in a few months than we could have achieved on our own computer cluster in a few years."
Dr. Robert Aymar, Director General of CERN, emphasized the importance of knowledge sharing with Africa through such projects "CERN has traditionally been a meeting place for scientists from around the globe, and I am glad that we could host the joint African-European team that launched this project. This underlines our continued commitment to promoting the role of science in the information society, as emphasized at the World Summits on the Information Society in Geneva and Tunis."
GIAN has just awarded another grant to the Africa@home project, to adapt other applications of significance to Africa to run on volunteer computers. The project will also train technical staff at African universities to manage the servers that run the volunteer computing projects, and help African researchers create their own volunteer computing projects. H.E. Mr. Adama SamassÃ©kou, President of ICVolunteers and previously Malian Minister of Education, noted that "getting Africans involved in world-class research like this is a great way to boost the self-esteem of the African scientific community, and putting African institutions at the heart of a worldwide scientific network will be a very concrete step towards bridging the digital divide."
The AIMS workshop on Volunteer Computing for Africa will introduce participants to state-of-the-art open source software technologies behind distributed computing and cyber-volunteerism on the Internet. Participants will gain hands-on experience with these technologies, so that they can harness the power of volunteer computers worldwide for their own research or to support research of their colleagues in universities and research labs across Africa. Volunteer computing is a new and rapidly growing trend that can help in efforts to tackle some of the major humanitarian challenges faced by Africa, and can also bridge the digital divide by putting African researchers at the centre of international humanitarian projects.
1 CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the world's leading laboratory for particle physics. It has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. India, Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and UNESCO have Observer status.
2 MalariaControl.net uses the same BOINC software platform that allows hundreds of thousands of people worldwide to participate in projects such as SETI@home and Climateprediction.net, searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence or forecasting the climate in the 21st century. See http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ for more details.
3 The Swiss Tropical Institute is based in Basel but has activities worldwide in support of its mandate to contribute to the improvement of the health of populations internationally and nationally through excellence in research, services, and teaching and training. It is a statutory organisation with core support from the Swiss Federal Government and the Canton of Basel-Stadt. The malaria modeling activities are supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
4 University of Geneva is the second largest university in Switzerland and is a public institution of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. It pursues three missions: teaching, research, and service to the wider community. From the time of its creation in 1559 by Jean Calvin, right up to the recent discovery by University astrophysicists of extrasolar planets, the University of Geneva has continued to grow and develop while maintaining its longstanding tradition of excellence with an international angle.
5 ICVolunteers is an international non-governmental organization that recruits, trains and coordinates volunteers for non-profit projects and conferences (cybervolunteerism, language services and conference support). Its CyberVolunteers Program works with information and communication technology specialists who offer their skills and time to development projects. The Program benefits from the patronage of UNESCO-Switzerland.
6 Informaticiens sans FrontiÃ¨res is an independent organization composed of international volunteers the aim of which is to help bridge the Digital Divide through education and communication in a form that is specially adapted to the needs of the developing world. ISF focuses on free Open Source solutions, and proposes a range of solutions that cover most problem areas of the Digital Divide.
7 The Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN) is an international research network whose primary objective is to reinforce cooperation among international organisations and academic institutions. The GIAN funds research activities that involve a partnership between the academic world and international organisations and that concern at least one of five thematic areas: globalisation, sustainable development, social equity, intercultural dialogue or human rights. The GIAN benefits from the collaborative and financial support of the Swiss Confederation and the Republic and Canton of Geneva.
ICVolunteers is coordinating all cyber-volunteers involved in this project.
We are currently recruting volunteers with strong information and communication skills to take part in this project.