CDC Relies on Intelsat Network for African Field Offices

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has operations in more than 50 countries, but in recent years Africa has emerged as a central area of focus following efforts to contain the West African Ebola virus epidemic that began in late 2013 and to prevent another outbreak. The agency has 14 field offices in 13 African countries, and all are connected to the global communications network that moves voice, video and data about disease outbreaks to and from its Atlanta headquarters and other locations.

Since 2010, Intelsat General Corporation (IGC) has provided satellite connectivity to the CDC’s African field locations as a backup to sometimes-unreliable terrestrial networks. The rugged terrain and low population densities of many countries make it uneconomic to provide reliable electricity to rural areas so that sometimes even terrestrial networks fail. The African Development Bank estimates that 70 percent of sub-Saharan Africans do not have access to electricity, yet crowding, poverty and tropical weather combine to create conditions ripe for the incubation and spread of communicable diseases.

Randy Gigante, Senior Program Manager at IGC, said that in any given month, 5 of the 14 CDC sites have to switch over to the satellite connection because of problems with local broadband service. IGC works with local service providers in each country to handle installation of equipment upgrades and maintenance issues at the ground facilities. Gigante said the African contractors usually respond to a problem at a CDC site within 24 hours of notification.

The Intelsat satellite network connection gives the CDC field workers and researchers a means of delivering data to the Atlanta headquarters for analysis and also a means of promoting health throughout the African nations by disseminating disease prevention and treatment information.

Intelsat General serves all of the CDC sites with the Intelsat IS-25 satellite, located over the Atlantic Ocean at 328.5 degrees East, with a downlink connection to the company’s Mountainside, MD, teleport. The IntelsatONE ground network connects the teleport to the CDC headquarters in Atlanta.

A key advantage to the CDC of using a single satellite is that all of the African offices can share the downstream broadcast, making it more efficient for CDC scientists to share information. The arrangement also allows the CDC to allocate bandwidth to countries where data demand is highest at any given time.