Wall Street Journal shout out for DataDyne and mHealth

by Adele Waugaman

Could a mobile phone be a key tool in the prevention of disease outbreaks and epidemics? Judges on the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards panel believe so.

DataDyne.org, a core partner in the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation’s mHealth (mobile health) program, has just won the prestigious award in the Healthcare IT category. An article in today’s paper explains:

In developing countries, gathering and analyzing time-sensitive health-care information can be a challenge. Rural health clinics typically compile data only in paper records, making it difficult to spot and to respond quickly to emerging trends.

With EpiSurveyor, developed with support from the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation, health officials can create health-survey forms that can be downloaded to commonly used mobile phones. Health workers carrying the phones can then collect information—about immunization rates, vaccine supplies or possible disease outbreaks—when they visit local clinics. The information can then be quickly analyzed to determine, say, whether medical supplies need to be restocked or to track the spread of a disease.

A key advantage of EpiSurveyor is its sustainability: the software is free and open source, meaning that country health officials can download health surveys and modify them to meet local needs. For example, last month Kenyan health officials adapted EpiSurveyor to help track and contain a polio outbreak in the northern Turkana district. 

Although large-scale immunization efforts eliminated the last indigenous cases of polio in Kenya in 1984, recent inflows of refugees fleeing violence in neighbouring Sudan renewed the threat of a polio epidemic. Health workers in Kenya used a web-enabled version of EpiSurveyor to help track and contain these outbreaks. On the DataDyne blog, health worker Yusuf Ajack Ibrahim noted how immediate access to health data enabled health workers to refine their emergency vaccination campaign:

Weakness noted were acted upon immediately. Some of the actions taken were redistribution of the vaccines, on the job training for our health workers, staff redeployment, immediate case investigation of suspected AFP cases, and change of [the] social mobilization strategy.

The Foundations invested $2 million to support the development, piloting and subsequent expansion of DataDyne’s EpiSurveyor health data-gathering software for mobile devices. In partnership with the World Health Organization and national ministries of health, the Foundations are helping to bring to scale the EpiSurveyor mHealth program in over 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new mHealth Alliance, announced earlier this year by the UN Foundation, Vodafone Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation, will build on this effort by promoting thought leadership, global advocacy and public-private sector collaboration to help bring the smartest ideas in mHealth to scale around the globe.