Using mobile phones to send SMS alerts to notify the presence of diseases to authorities and thus prevent their spread, is faster, cheaper and more effective than the conventional manual method of notification which includes using the postal services, an operation that may take the authorities at least two weeks to arrive at the epidemiological site to take remedial measures, by observing a system that was set-up over 100 years ago, in an era where there were no computers nor mobile phones.
However a US$ 350,000 pilot project funded by Canada and implemented in certain parts of the Kurunegala district and Tamil Nadu has proved that health services going electronic are quicker to deliver the goods, as compared with manual operations.
Can software programmes that analyse health statistics and mobile phone applications that send and receive health information, potentially be effective in the early detection and mitigation of disease outbreaks? was the challenge, which this pilot project allegedly proved that it could.
“A letter will cost Rs. 6, but an SMS will cost only 50 cents,” Nuwan Waidyanatha, Senior Researcher/ Project Director, LIRNEasia, the implementor of the project, told reporters on Tuesday. “What generally used to take 15-30 days was reduced to minutes,” he added.
In a cost analysis done by LIRNEasia, moving over to electronic health reporting would entail a sum of US$ 12,000 per month, per district. Sri Lanka has some 25 districts.
“The next target would be to enhance the new donor budget to US$ two million encompassing the whole of Kurunegala and Kegalle districts, plus a few more countries, like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Philippines and possibly China also added on,” said Waidyanatha.
The pilot sample in Kurunegala covered 300,000 patients (with their data stored electronically) patronizing 12 Government district hospitals /clinics in the area. The district on the whole has some 50 hospitals.
“If we detect early, we can take action early, then we can prevent people from being sick,” said Dr. Sudath Peiris, the Health Ministry’s Chief Epidemiologist.
With vector borne diseases such as dengue becoming common, the prevention of its spread and the destruction of its breeding points soon, become critical, in an operation which not only involves hospitals, but the PHIs as well, who are tasked to destroy such breeding sites.