By Anant Shah
Published: March 8, 2007
Imagine if you could interview a family about their health, enter the information into a PDA, and sync the data wirelessly to a database in an office miles away, ready for real-time analysis—all while sitting in the middle of one of Africa's largest slums where homes are made of mud and open sewage lines the walkways.
Or imagine if you could deliver health alerts with text messages to tribal chiefs across rural Africa who do not have Internet access but do own a $20 mobile phone. And that same chief could send a text message to report a suspect case of a dangerous infectious disease to health authorities using the same $20 phone.
These scenarios are neither far-fetched nor imaginary.
CDC's International Emerging Infections Program and Kenya's Ministry of Health (MOH) are using PDAs and cell phones in unprecedented ways to improve Kenya's capacity to detect, prevent, and control disease.
Two on-going CDC projects in Kenya demonstrate this innovative use of mobile technology to shape the future of public health practice.
The first is a "Household Morbidity Surveillance Study" established in collaboration with Carolina for Kibera (CFK), a non-profit organization run by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to identify the sources and burden of various diseases affecting the slum community.
The second project launched by CDC and the MOH explores the use of text messaging as a means of conducting disease surveillance and communicating health information through an automated system of health updates and urgent outbreak alerts.
In each project, the formerly cumbersome process of collecting, storing, transferring, and entering data becomes a simple automated step with a PDA or cell phone. This empowers the field worker in rural communities to communicate health information without telephone lines, computers, fax machines, or Internet.
Reprinted from: The Yale Journal of Public Health (Winter 2007).
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