University of the Basque Country develops system for identifying illnesses in Paraguay

Bilbao 25 March 2010Xabier Basogain Olabe (Donostia-San Sebastián, 1962), lecturer at the Higher Technical School of Engineering in Bilbao, is leading a project, known as Bonis. It involves developing a multimedia system in order to undertake visual monitoring of epidemiology in isolated areas of Paraguay and thus avoid the dengue plague and other febrile illnesses. The practical trials will begin shortly and it is hoped to have the first results by June.


Mr. Basogain has been a telecommunications engineer and lecturer at the Higher Technical School of Engineering in Bilbao since 1990. He works at the Department of Engineering of Systems and Automation and he formed the University of the Basque Country (EHU-UPV) Multimedia Group with other staff in 1997.

"We began with studies of voice and image transmission in telecommunication networks with simulation, and afterwards we went on to use in the lecture rooms this theoretical knowledge we had gained. We opened a new line of research: on-line education using multimedia content. Later we started to work with enhanced and virtual reality", stated Mr. Basogain.

The lines of research undertaken at Multimedia-EHU have been precisely those that have helped Mr. Basogain with the knowledge sufficient to launch the Bonis project. Two lecturers at the Nautical School at the UPV/EHU had had contact with the Paraguayan Health Sciences Research Institute, and that is where it all started.

"The first conversations were in January 2009, where they set out the problem they wished to tackle." They wanted a system that would facilitate telemedicine, aimed at the most remote spots of the country and, at least to start with, at fever-related and contagious illnesses such as dengue fever. This system will provide the required tools for contacting the health authorities by the patients themselves.

The team involved in the Bonis project is made up of three university teachers, including Mr. Basogain, from the Multimedia-EHU Group and another two from the Nautical School, and with the Paraguayan Health Sciences Research Institute collaborating. Funding came through the UPV/EHU and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After a number of trials over the past year, a multimedia system based on free software was designed.

"Nowadays what is involved is programming a language, installing software, equipment, and so on. We did not have to invent anything, but only identify technologies, develop their applications and integrate them", explained Mr. Basogain.

The whole system is triggered by a simple phone call from the user who responds to the questions about his or her symptoms from an automatic answering machine. As regards personal data, if the patient is already registered, his or her identity document number is sufficient for the automatic answering machine to retrieve their medical history and postal address. If this is not the case, there is the option of registering at the moment of making the call.

"In a conversation of one minute we have registered your fever symptoms and the system knows who you are and where you live. It is subsequently able to draw up a list of how many calls have been made that day, each with its medical profile, so that the supervisor can say if there is a possible outbreak of an epidemic", explained Mr. Basogain.

The computer storing this database is located at the Office of the Director General of Health Monitoring in the capital, Asunción. The community agents at these headquarters have been working for some time now taking house to house analyses. If the new system functions according to plan, their work will be more effective.

According to Mr. Basogain, "today they make these visits in a random manner and maybe do not get to the dwelling where the ill person is, simply because they do not know that they are there."

The final link in the system is the web page for the professionals. This web will facilitate internal communication between doctors and experts, and will act as a system of notification: "The doctor will fill in the data of the patient he or she has had in their surgery, annotating their symptoms and diagnosis, and this data is then registered and accessible at the Paraguayan Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare."

The project is currently at the Bonis 2.0. phase. "The proposal is that from April we start production. In this way, in two or three months, we will have had our first experiment and be able to make the first evaluation of the system." This pilot experiment will be undertaken in the Bañado Sur neighbourhood of Asunción, with the participation of the Centro de Ayuda Mutua - Salud Para Todos (CAMSAT). Bañado Sur is an isolated and poor area with the characteristics appropriate for testing the system.

If the system meets expectations, it will have various advantages, according to Mr. Basogain. "Diagnosis will be faster in possible cases of febrile infections and, given the contagious nature of these illnesses, this is of prime importance, both in health and in financial terms. We are seeking to prioritise and bring forward the community agents' visits in order to identify any fever cases as soon as possible. Moreover, it will be possible to extend the system to monitor other kinds of illnesses - respiratory and diarrhoeal, for example."

Source: Elhuyar Fundazioa

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