Kenya: Mobile Surveillance Set to Boost Doctors' Response to Outbreaks

Telecoms

The government has launched a mobile disease surveillance system that will enable health workers in the field detect and manage disease outbreaks through smart phones, adding impetus to m-health initiatives fronted as crucial in increasing response times to save lives.

The system will see health workers collect and upload data through a web operating system (webOS) application, analyse and share the data with organizations like National Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Program (Nascop) for action.

Using the system, health workers will gain access to specific cases and location information from their mobile devices in the field. Health officers in the area and members of the Ministry will then receive a text message alerting them of an outbreak.

"The system will enable real-time monitoring; facilitating prompt response to any alerts," said Public Health and sanitation Permanent Secretary, Mr Mark Bor. Early detection, recording and timely reporting of diseases is critical for rapid and targeted responses. The pilot phase, which is set to replace the current paper-based system prone to error and slow in invoking action in case of an outbreak will entail the use of 250 HP Palm Pre-Smart Phones. The initiative was launched by the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) program under the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation in conjunction with technology firm, HP East Africa, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the Strathmore Business School.

The phones are part of a Sh91 million worth of technological support that HP will be extending to the Government through the Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) program.

"Through the flexibility and ease of development on the webOS platform, a surveillance application enables health workers to perform real time surveys from the field," the HP East Africa (EA) Managing Director Mr Ken Mbwaya said.

"Health workers are able to enter accurate, context-rich data through pictures, video audio, GPS co-ordinates, qualitative and quantitative information about the case," said Mr Mbwaya.

According to the economic survey 2011, Kenya has a total of 252 registered medical personal per 100,000 of the population out of whom 88 are still under training leaving 164 qualified medical practitioners for the said population.

The government data shows that only 19 public health officials and 18 doctors are available per 100,000 Kenyans, making it increasingly difficult to detect a disease outbreak before it turns fatal.

"We believe by embracing Information Communication Technology, the Government will improve on its disease detection and surveillance methods," said Dr S. K Shariff, the Director Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. The ministry said the country was at a risk of importing communicable diseases from neighbouring countries. Such systems are being used in developed countries and have been successful in controlling disease outbreaks especially in densely population nations like China and India.

This comes at a time when mobile phone service providers and IT firms are rolling out e-health services as value addition in efforts to increase internet traffic on their networks, win more customers and retain existing subscribers in the ongoing battle for control of the internet market in the country.

Telkom Kenya (Orange) has lined up a free SMS service to help users fight the growing menace of counterfeit drugs as it positions itself for high speed Internet (3G).

Under its e-health package, the telco entered a deal fronted by its parent company France Telecom with a pan-African SMS-based solution provider mPedigree to fight counterfeit medicines in Africa, starting with Kenya and Cameroon.

Telkom Kenya chief executive Mickael Ghossein said they were focusing on value-addition and would use health and education information as an entry point once it launches its 3G network, later this year.

A South African IT firm, Pharos Avantgard, is also looking for partners to use their mobile phone application that uses USSD and SMS platforms to monitor and manage medical therapies.

Dubbed M-Nurse, the application is used in South Africa by HIV/Aids patients on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and also allows third party monitoring to aid early intervention through notifications and monitoring trends.

There are over 200 m-health applications in use in the world and their contribution is expected to grow.