Sustainable Technology Empowers Healthcare Delivery in Africa
Palm pilot programs in Kenya and Zambia demonstrate that open source mobile software increases countries' capacity to manage public health
October 10, 2007
The United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation announced today the successful conclusion of two pilot mobile health data programs in Africa, and said that significant benefits to healthcare delivery in developing countries could be achieved by monitoring health data and tracking the progress of health campaigns using open source software on mobile hand-held devices.
The one-year pilot programs 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.
The pilots, part of the Foundations’ Health Data Systems program, 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 programs today, the Foundations said they were pleased by the initial results and the vital role of mobile technology in improving healthcare delivery and battling disease.
“These programs build off our prior investments in integrated healthcare campaigns in Africa, where we’ve seen that successful measles immunization campaigns rely on timely and accurate information from the field,” said 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 programs - even in resource restrictive environments,” said 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,” said Joel Selanikio, co-founder of DataDyne.org, the non-profit organization that developed the fee-free EpiSurveyor software.
Following completion of the pilot programs, the Foundations are continuing their work with DataDyne.org, the WHO, and national ministries of health to expand the Health Data Systems program. The WHO has announced that it intends to make EpiSurveyor a standard for data collection in sub-Saharan Africa, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has downloaded the free EpiSurveyor software and is using it to collect integrated health data in Sierra Leone.