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Global Problems Can be Solved

Virus Hunters: Stopping Polio in Kenya

Polio is a disease on the threshold of dormancy, but in several parts of the world hard work remains before polio can be placed in the “eradicated” file. Take Kenya, for example. Until 2007, it had been nearly two decades since a case of polio was seen within the country’s borders. But when refugees fleeing political unrest in neighboring Somalia spilled into Kenya, the country again was confronted with the threat of a polio epidemic. 

The Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunizations (KEPI) responded quickly to the crisis with mobile health tools — personal digital assistants (PDAs) loaded with EpiSurveyor software. EpiSurveyor is a free, open source health data collection tool that can quickly and accurately collect health data from even the most remote locations.

Titus Kolongei, a health-care officer with KEPI, used EpiSurveyor to trace the path of the virus as it entered Kenya and record who came into contact with the infected children. KEPI used this data to target almost 2 million children for vaccination, as immunizing those in surrounding areas gave the virus fewer children to infect, and fewer places to hide.

Prior to using EpiSurveyor, this data had been collected on paper, meaning long wait periods while thousands of data points from hundreds of individual surveys were entered electronically. By moving health data collection and analysis from paper to PDA, EpiSurveyor dramatically speeds collection, analysis, reporting and action, enabling better health care and more saved lives.

EpiSurveyor is being developed by DataDyne.org with support from the UN Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation Technology Partnership (UNF-VGF). By partnering with innovative groups like DataDyne.org and the UN World Health Organization to bring these cutting-edge solutions to scale, the UNF-VGF mobile health program is helping to make sustainable technology in the service of public health a reality.

KEPI workers like Titus are now using mobile health tools to hunt down every single new case of polio and other deadly or life-altering diseases, such as measles. As a result, these deadly viral illnesses become even rarer, and developing-country health workers have in hand a powerful new tool capable of stopping epidemics in their tracks.

Watch a BloggingHeads.TV interview with Joel Selanikio, co-founder of DataDyne.org, including a discussion of Kenya’s use of EpiSurveyor to contain a polio outbreak. 

 
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