Along with war, famine, and death, pestilence is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a representation of the pervasive fears of our ancestors in antiquity. In the midst of the worst pestilence of our lifetimes, we are all dependent on the success of the health professionals who are working tirelessly to combat COVID-19.
As a society, we can follow the public health recommendations of socially distancing and wearing masks. This is the same advice our great-grandparents followed in fighting the last global pandemic, the 1918 flu. But today, physical separation no longer cuts off our ability to communicate and collaborate effectively. The grave impact of this ongoing global disaster has inspired many of us around the world to find ways that we can work together to support the public health community in their battle against this terrible disease.
Open source software development – which enables collaboration independent of location – is only possible because communications technologies have undergone a revolution in the century since the last pandemic. It is no coincidence that Linux, the biggest open source project in the world, began right when the Internet became available to the public (and specifically to a 21-year-old undergrad in Finland).
The mission of Linux Foundation Public Health is to use open source software to help public health authorities (PHAs) around the world combat COVID-19 and future epidemics. We’re starting with two exposure notification apps but we expect to host dozens of projects to support all phases of a PHA’s testing, tracing, and isolation activities. We are building a global community of technology and consulting companies, public health authorities, epidemiologists and other public health specialists, privacy and security experts, and individual developers.
Open source can sometimes seem convoluted, with its jargon (e.g., upstream, fork, committer), myriad of licenses with obscure differences, and the disagreements that arise when any diverse group of people work together to build something. But open source, like science, is fundamentally about collaboration and the realization that many of us working together are more likely to be successful than individuals or small groups working apart. It is about believing in each other and that together we can improve things.
We invite you to collaborate with us in the Linux Foundation Public Health community.