New mobile tech helps doctors track disease and supplies in real time

Episurveyor Phone Client in the Field

Martin Cooper, the inventor of the first cell phone, had high hopes of people using their cellular devices anywhere in the world. But, what Mr. Cooper could never have anticipated is that new and advanced technology is allowing for mobile devices to do way more.

If you’ve been keeping up with our blog series, “Digital Africa,” you are probably aware of ways that technology has helped mobilize development. What might shock you is just how far a mobile phone can go in saving lives.

You’re probably thinking, “How on earth could a cell phone save a life? All mine does is let me play Tetris and surf the Internet.” Well, thanks to a partnership between the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the Vodafone Foundation, mobile technology has become inextricably connected to global health and humanitarian relief. This year marks the five-year milestone of this $28 million public-private partnership, and there are many achievements to celebrate.

Now, you finally get the answer to your question — what did these humanitarian policy makers and technology experts do to transform an average cell phone into a life-saving device? Let’s take a look at two of the biggest inventions and accomplishments over the past five years and find out.

mHealth in Kenyan Hospitals
Today, health clinics in developing nations no longer have to compile data using paper records, which makes it incredibly difficult to recognize and respond to health care emergencies. Instead, health care officials now download health survey forms from their mobile phone.

UNF and Vodafone pioneered with DataDyne, a business based in Kenya, US and Chile that invented the EpiSurveyor. The EpiSurveyor is a software that enables doctors to download important health surveys on any commonly used mobile device. With EpiSurveyors, doctors and nurses can gather data about immunization rates, vaccines supplies or possible disease outbreaks. They can then use this information to determine the need for medical supplies or to track the spread of new illnesses before it even happens!

And, we’re not the only ones who think this invention is groundbreaking. Judges at the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards agree that mobile phones are a vital tool in the prevention of disease outbreaks and epidemics.

But that’s not all that mobile phones are doing…

The EpiSurveyor has yet another awesome function — it can help doctors make complex decisions when assisting in child birth. Yes, I know it sounds a little crazy, but it’s true. And if you don’t believe me, listen to Awa Dieng, a DataDyne staff member who has witnessed just how far this invention can go for pregnant women in Senegal:

The EpiSurveyor allows partographs, which are pieces of papers used to track maternal and fetal measures, to be taken as a composite. The use of EpiSurveryors for partographs has skyrocketed to 69 percent because it provides important information to both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Senegal Ministry of Health. But it doesn’t stop there. The customizability of this program traveled to Kenya, where doctors and health care officials use this invention to monitor the outbreak of diseases.

These two inventions are only a few examples of the mobile technology that is sweeping across Africa. Check out Brooke Riley’s blog piece, “Mama: Life Saving Text Messages,” and Lorraine Chu’s “M-Pesa Allows Kenyans to transfer money via SMS” to learn just how far mobile technology can go in developing Africa. And, to find out more about how Vodafone and the UN are catalyzing innovation, read their report discussing and assessing their work over the past five years.

Photos courtesy of UN Foundation and DataDyne