Speeding up detection to slow down Ebola: Smartphone app is game-changer for contact tracing in hotspots in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
20 September 2019
Standing in front of her house, Kavira Kasomo chats with Léa Kanyere as if they are old friends. Kanyere shows Kasomo something on her mobile phone that makes her smile. Then Kanyere lends a hand as Kasomo hangs out her laundry.
No one around them seems suspicious of Kanyere.
The only sign that she may be more than a friend comes when she takes Kasomo’s temperature. By the time Kanyere, a contract tracer working for the Ebola response, reaches the next household on her list, her supervisor sitting a few kilometres away in the health zone central office can already see Kasomo’s temperature reading and other vital information.
Until recently, following up with people who have come into contact with Ebola was a complicated task for contact tracers like Kanyere, working in one of the epicentres of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where suspicion can quickly reach a fever pitch.
“We used to use paper, filling out a form each day for every contact,” she explains. “Then at the end of the day, we took the papers to our supervisors, who alerted the doctor if one of the contacts had signs of Ebola. It took a long time.”
“Another big problem for me was security,” adds Kanyere. Walking around carrying a folder of documents draws the attention of the contacts’ neighbours, especially in a neighbourhood in which many people are suspicious of any official intervention.
Community resistance has been particularly strong in Mabolio. This has hindered the response. “Sometimes when I was carrying papers, I would be chased away,” says Jean-Baptiste Kahehoro, another contact tracer, “and then I wouldn’t be able to go back for days.”
Now, Kahehoro, Kanyere and other contract tracers only need to carry their mobile phone. The information they gather can be sent to their supervisor straight from the field. This is thanks to Go.Data, a mobile application that the World Health Organization (WHO) introduced in Beni on 1 September.
Created by the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) group, WHO and partner organizations, Go.Data is a major innovation in outbreak investigation tools for field data collection. “It is particularly focused on case and contact data collection and management,” says Armand Bejtullahu, the project leader at WHO and one of the chief architects of the tool. “This allows the software to produce outputs, such as contact follow-up forms and dynamic visualization of chains of transmission.” Read the full article on WHO here.