Sustainable technology empowers health care delivery in Africa

Washington D.C. 10 October 2007The United Nations (UN) Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation have successfully concluded two pilot mobile health data programmes in Africa, and noted that significant benefits to health care delivery in developing countries could be achieved by monitoring health data and tracking the progress of health campaigns using open source software on mobile handheld devices. The one-year pilot programmes in Kenya and Zambia used EpiSurveyor software on Palm handheld devices to facilitate the supervision of public health clinics, and resulted in improved drug supply-chain management and more regular access to public health trends. Additionally, country health officials modified the EpiSurveyor software to track and contain disease outbreaks, and to identify immunization campaign coverage rates.

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The pilots, part of the Foundations' Health Data Systems programme, involved health experts from country governments, the World Health Organization (WHO) and DataDyne.org, and supported faster and broader access to in-country health data. In announcing the completion of the pilot programmes, the Foundations stated that they were pleased by the initial results and the demonstrated effectiveness of the vital role of mobile technology in improving health care delivery and battling disease.

"These programmes build off our prior investments in integrated health care campaigns in Africa, where we've seen that successful Measles immunization campaigns rely on timely and accurate information from the field", stated Tim Wirth, president of the UN Foundation. "Such information had been hard to come by in many countries, but now sustainable mobile technologies are addressing this challenge."

"By making information technology portable, simple and affordable we can effectively support public health programmes - even in resource restrictive environments", stated Andrew Dunnett, director of The Vodafone Group Foundation. "This project effectively lowers the barriers to public health management, and puts access to health data collection and management tools squarely in the hands of developing-country public health officials."

Designed to facilitate the supervision of health data in public clinics using handheld computers, the initiative broke ground when country officials modified the open source EpiSurveyor data-gathering software to meet other public health needs as they arose. In Kenya health officials modified EpiSurveyor to investigate and contain a polio outbreak, and in Zambia health officials modified the software to conduct a post-measles-immunization campaign coverage survey to identify which children had not been vaccinated. Because the EpiSurveyor application is open source, its application was owned and controlled entirely by WHO and country health officials without depending on outside consultants.

"Empowered with sustainable open source technologies, developing-country public health professionals can get more critical health information that can be used to improve lives, fight disease, and reduce deaths all without expensive technology or outside consultants", stated Joel Selanikio, co-founder of DataDyne.org, the non-profit organisation that developed the fee-free EpiSurveyor software.

Following completion of the pilot programmes, the Foundations are continuing their work with DataDyne.org, the WHO, and national ministries of health to expand the Health Data Systems programme. The WHO has announced that it intends to make EpiSurveyor a standard for data collection in sub-Saharan Africa, and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has downloaded the free EpiSurveyor software and is using it to collect integrated health data in Sierra Leone.

The UN Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation (VGF) alliance strives to be the leading public-private partnership using strategic technology programmes to strengthen the UN's humanitarian efforts worldwide. Created in October 2005, with a GBP 10 million commitment from VGF matched by GBP 5 million from the UN Foundation, the Partnership has three core commitments:

  1. to develop rapid response telecoms teams to aid disaster relief;
  2. to develop health data systems that improve access to health data thereby helping to combat disease; and
  3. to promote research and innovative initiatives using technology as an agent and tool for international development.

DataDyne was formed in 2003 by physician/epidemiologist Joel Selanikio, formerly of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and technologist Rose Donna, formerly of the American Red Cross, to increase the quantity and quality of data available for worldwide public health. DataDyne works with mobile information technologies including handheld computers, smartphones, the Internet, and GPS, to break down the barriers to data utilization and create sustainable data flows in developing countries. DataDyne's premier product is the award-winning EpiSurveyor, a free, open-source data-gathering software suite for handheld computers and smartphones. Based on the success of the pilot programmes in Kenya and Zambia, the United States Centers for Disease Control is now using EpiSurveyor software in Sierra Leone.

For more information about how EpiSurveyor was used to fight polio in Kenya, you can download the file at the United Nations Foundation website. And to learn more about the Zambia pilot, you can read the article by Joel Selanikio, MD, co-founder of DataDyne.org. EpiSurveyor is available for download at the DataDyne.org website.


Leslie Versweyveld

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