Page last updated at 11:57 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Mobile boom fuels health work in developing countries

A health worker uses EpiSurveyor to collect data for a Malaria study in Nigeria
EpiSurveyor has been used to collect data for a Malaria studies in Nigeria

BBC World Service

The explosion of mobile use in developing countries is helping transform health care.

Groups such as DataDyne use mobiles to collect and share vital data on health and disease is collected.

The organisation produces EpiSurveyor, which health workers use to gather information about vaccination rates and instances of HIV.


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In the past, such data collection would have conducted using the slower, more cumbersome and error-prone pen and paper.

In addition, records would have to be physically taken to a central repository, rather than sent over the airwaves.

"We're using just standard cell phones - not smart phones necessarily, although we're working on an iPhone application," said Joel Selanikio, co-founder of DataDyne.

He says that while internet access via desktop or laptop computers is not readily available to all, many people, even in the developing world, have a mobile phone.

"There's two distinct populations that use EpiSurveyor.

"There's the command and control, if you will, the people who are managers and running the programmes, deciding what information needs to be collected.

"And then the people at the district level, or even the village level.

"Now increasingly every single one of them has a mobile phone."

EpiSurveyor was built with a focus on international development, but Mr Selanikio says others are finding uses for the system - a trend which could make the project completely self-supporting.

"Interestingly, there are a lot of people out there apparently who are neither working in health nor working in developing countries who wish to do similar things.

For example, he said, the Ministry of Agriculture in Canada use the tool to collect data on veterinary disease in rural farms.

"And the World Bank is planning on using EpiSurveyor to do judicial reform surveys in Argentina," he said.

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These more commercially-minded clients provide DataDyne the ability to experiment with payment models previously out of reach to developing world users.

Until now, the project has been kept afloat by grants from the likes of Vodafone and the UN Foundation.

"We recognise that there are very large, well-funded organisations who find EpiSurveyor quite useful," added Mr Selanikio.

"We've managed to get some of them to sign up to what we call a pro account.

"What we're attempting to do is basically exactly the same thing that Flickr does or that Skype does: use the revenue from that minority of users to pay for the rest of the users to get really good, free basic capacity."

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