Kenya: Mobile phones being used to warn of possible animal disease outbreaks

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Extensive use of mobile phones to issue alerts on possible spate of attacks such as animal disease outbreaks has been widely reported among farmers and veterinarians across Africa.

Until five years ago, veterinarians had to travel to remote regions to record data and then back to district-level offices to process the paperwork, a process that took weeks. Mobile phone apps are today in extensive use to make early stage warning, in just seconds, once a disease has attacked the livestock.

Using the mobile technology, and specifically the Global Positioning System (GPS) function that has today been directly integrated in most mobile phones, animal diseases can be promptly detected and isolated once alerts are received by experts digitally.

Early warnings, according to a study, can prevent the death of thousands of animals, as a result safeguarding livelihoods and food security, and even preventing diseases that can sometimes be transmitted to humans.

According to FAO, fundamental veterinary care can be tracked with clear-cut accuracy and speed, attributable to the GPS function.

“FAO and partners are piggy-backing on this enormous uptake of mobile phone technology for uses in reporting animal disease outbreaks, tracking vaccination campaigns and the delivery of veterinary treatments, such as deworming animals,” said Robert Allport, FAO Kenya’s Assistant FAO representative for programme implementation.

In Kenya, where some three out of four people own a mobile phone, FAO has partnered with the Royal Veterinary College and local NGO Vetaid to support the pilot testing of a mobile phone application developed by researchers at the Imperial College London’s School of Public Health.

The application dubbed EpiCollect, which helps track animal treatment or vaccination campaigns, monitors animals’ medical history using the mobile Web.
The application and storage space are offered at no cost on the EpiCollect website that also assigns a unique location for each project.

“Cellular phones eliminate delays in receiving field data, since all the information is relayed via the mobile network,” Allport said.

“In addition, the information is assigned a geographic location, so locations are extremely accurate and available in real-time.”

The information, which initially took weeks to process, can today be processed in a matter of minutes in addition to transmitting the info in real time. For instance, the data on the population of livestock in a herd and the number of those vaccinated is stored before being relayed to the project location on a project-specific website in seconds.

As the herds move about, their movements can be tracked recurrently and updated. Presently, EpiCollect is solely in use by field veterinarians with cell phones provided by Google Kenya for the pilot phase.

“Eventually, the tools could be made available to village elders and well-established networks of community animal health workers, as more and more Kenyans upgrade to Internet-enabled phones and prices for the technology inevitably come down,” Google said.

Though a third of Kenyans currently have access to the Internet, some 99 percent of them use the mobile Web. This means information on possible epidemics can be to a large population in a matter of seconds.

“Prevention, preparedness and early response are powerful concepts that when translated into tools can be effectively used against infectious diseases, thereby safeguard people’s livelihoods, fend off hunger and, in some cases, human illness,” said Juan Lubroth, the FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer.