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Press Release: Volunteer Computing for African Humanitarian Causes - 13.07.06

Your PC Can Save Lives in Africa

Geneva, 13 July 2006 – 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 project funded by the Geneva International Academic Network (GIAN), was launched publicly this week. 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. 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.

The Africa@home project partners - which include CERN, the University of Geneva, and two Geneva-based NGOs, ICVolunteers and Informaticiens sans Frontieres - have involved researchers from African academic institutions in the development of the software. These researchers, from the University of Bamako in Mali and the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie in Bamako and in Yaoundé, Cameroon, have collaborated with experts at the Swiss Tropical Institute and CERN.

To install MalariaControl.net, volunteers just need to download the necessary software from the Africa@home website ( www.africaathome.org ), which will do the scientific calculations in the background, while they are doing something else. The results are regularly returned, 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 PC.

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 learn how to create their own volunteer computing projects. To this end, collaborations with the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar in Senegal, the University of Bamako in Mali, and the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis have already been initiated, with the help of the World Health Organization.

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 in-house 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 underlies 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”.

H.E. Mr. Adama Samassékou, 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.”

Prof. Christian Pellegrini, Head of the Computer Science Department at the University of Geneva, added “In my recent trips to Africa, the response we have received to the Africa@home project from academic institutions has been overwhelmingly positive. This is the sort of grass-roots initiative that can really make a difference. The GIAN deserves credit for bringing together the various partners and making it possible for Africans and Europeans to work together in this way.”

For further information please contact François Grey (CERN): tel. 022 767 14 83, Francois.Grey@cern.ch ; or Randall Harbour (GIAN): tel. 022 734 67 80, harbour@ruig-gian.org , and visit the websites: http://africa-at-home.web.cern.ch/ http://www.malariacontrol.net/ http://www.ruig-gian.org .

Related Project(s)

Small Grant - 2005 Africa@home

>See the Project

Related Output(s)

Volunteer Computing for African Humanitarian Causes
(available in English and French)
> more