A Mobile App That Saves Lives, Literally

April 29, 2009

Written by Jolie O’Dell (www.readwriteweb.com)

DataDyne‘s EpiSurveyor program, funded by the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, has been implementing mobile technology to track and contain disease in developing nations since 2007.

In a recent and potentially devastating polio outbreak in Kenya, EpiSurveyor’s new mobile platform was used to track virus carriers and immunize affected children. The campaign targeted around 2 million Kenyan children. Mobile tech will be used exclusively for new nationwide initiatives in children’s healthcare, and the World Health Organization has made EpiSurveyor the standard for data collection in sub-Saharan Africa. Screenshots and video included below.

“mHealth” is a recent term for medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, PDAs, and other wireless devices, especially in areas where Internet access via computers is lacking. Related programs allow health officials to quickly gather and assess data regardless of location or access to more traditional resources, permitting immediate mobile response to health crises. Users can create forms, view records, and share data with others.

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The EpiSurveyor program began using donated Palm Pilots to gather health data in Kenya and Zambia less than two years ago. Currently, DataDyne is migrating the program to Java-based platforms for mobile phones. Beta testing began in April 2009 with Nokia S40 series devices and will expand to support other devices in May.

There’s an interesting and rather basic tutorial video for field workers here which demonstrates some of the uses of EpiSurveyor’s data collection tools. Much more interesting is this video, an interview with an EpiSurveyor mobile developer in Kenya who had been working through the night to prepare a stack of phones for data collection in the field:

Interestingly, DataDyne’s Coded in Country (CIC) initiative puts at least 50% of the coding duties in the hands of local developers, helping to bolster both local tech communities and local economies.

Since most developing areas have far greater saturation of mobile devices than of actual computers with Internet connections, these devices are of the utmost importance for collecting, storing, retrieving, and transmitting critical and even life-saving information.

Last year, EpiSurveyor training took place in nine countries (Benin, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, and Uganda). This year, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Eritrea, Gabon, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Togo will also have training programs. Overall, more than 800 health officers throughout Africa will have been trained on the EpiSurveyor program with potential to reach over hundreds of thousands of patients throughout the continent.

Datadyne founder, pediatrician and CDC epidemiologist Dr. Joel Selanikio, also recently won this year’s $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability for his contributions to public health and international development.

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