Cellphones battle malaria in Africa

May 22, 2012 at 7:56 PM

GABORONE, Botswana, May 22 (UPI) -- Mobile phones have cut the time needed to report malaria outbreaks in Africa from weeks to minutes, allowing more timely government responses, researchers say.

The results of the first year of a mobile disease response pilot program were reported last week by Hewlett-Packard, along with partners Positive Innovation for the Next Generation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and mobile network provider MASCOM, Mashable reported.

"We see technology having a profound impact on disease surveillance, which has a highly antiquated process," Paul Ellingstad, HP's director of global heath, said.

While it can take three to four weeks to get a report of cases of malaria to a district health clinic, and then to the Ministry of Health of a respective country, cellphone reports can speed up the process to a matter of minutes, he said -- meaning the respective government can immediately send bed nets and alert citizens to take precautions.

Since the pilot program began in June 2011 in Botswana's Chobe region, 1,068 notifications were reported to Ministry of Health officials by healthcare workers trained to use mobile devices to collect malaria data and report outbreaks to authorities.

"This is an example of the role technology can play in fundamentally transforming and improving existing programs within the public health sector," Ellingstad said. "What's critical in doing so is partnering with governments and other leading NGOs to appropriately implement technology, rather than providing technology and letting the process sort itself out."

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