December 20, 2014
FILIPINO PRIEST INVENTS EBOLA-PROOF COMMUNICATION DEVICE FOR USE IN QUARANTINE SITES
A retired Filipino priest in Phoenix has developed an Internet-less Skype-like application that can be used by a quarantined Ebola patient and anyone outside the containment area. Dubbed as “Encounter Box”, Fr. Romuald Zantua extended the functionality of his last year’s widely talked about “Confession Box” invention which enables people with hearing and speech difficulties to practice the sacrament using a secured two-computer chat system.
Fr. Zantua was inspired to devise a communication solution upon hearing news of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa where internet connectivity is non-existent. “While smartphones and tablets with apps like Skype are widely used in developed cities, they actually do not work if you are in a remote area where there is no Internet,” explained Fr. Zantua. “I thought of something simple – something anyone will be able to do with the devices they already have and make them work to suit the need for human communication in the direst of circumstances,” he added.
Patients infected with the Ebola virus are required to be isolated until cleared with the disease. The mortality may be as high as 70%, according to WHO. It is highly contagious and easily transmissible that numerous healthcare workers have contracted disease even when wearing protective gears. While in quarantine, patients are completely cut off from the outside world – even for priests who can administer the sacraments and last rites.
The Encounter Box is a peer-to-peer application using only a single network cable connected to two computers. In a hospital quarantine scenario, an Ebola patient and a priest will be able to talk via a video chat to without the need for a protective gear for the latter, thereby reducing the risk of infection and increasing spiritual encounters on these kind of electronic interactions for Ebola patients. The same “box” will serve a greater purpose when used as a monitoring device by medical professionals and as a messaging tool by visiting relatives.
The software runs on the upcoming WebRTC standard being developed by a group composed of IT companies including Google and Microsoft. WebRTC, short for Web Real-Time Communication, is a standard being drafted to allow computer users to exchange video, audio, and data via popular web browsers with no need for expensive servers and plugin applications. Fr. Zantua took this approach to a much simpler use that eliminates the need for the Internet. Each computer just needs to be plugged in with a cable and the two computers will be able to transmit audio and video communication by the people on both ends. “Basically, what you have is a modernized version of a children tin-can walkie-talkie,” Fr. Zantua described his concept.
Last year, his Confession Box invention generated wide excitement in the Catholic communities of people with hearing and speech impediments. The proposed modern confessional is a system of two computers where the priest and the penitent will be able to communicate by chatting and watching subtitled videos throughout the steps of confession.
Fr. Zantua plans to combine the two inventions as “St. Damien Sacramental Solutions”, a software designed to assist the deaf, the speech-impaired, and persons in isolation due to communicable illnesses, to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance, by the use of computers.
He believes that this solution follows the directives of the Holy See and if approved, it will enable a priest who does not know any sign language, to administer the sacrament of reconciliation and penance to deaf people as well as to the speech-impaired. It serves as an alternate to the already approved means of writing or the use of an approved interpreter, thus further respecting the anonymity of the penitent during the celebration of the sacrament.
In October this year, the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington communicated to Fr. Zantua a letter by Archbishop Angelo Becciu of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See. Archbishop Becciu revealed in that letter that the question about the use of Fr. Zantua’s invention was already sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for examination.
FOR FURTHER QUERIES AND REQUESTS, PLEASE CONTACT:
Fr. Romuald Zantua, DS
9241 North 36th Drive
Phoenix, Arizona 85051
+1 602 841-7824