WHO launches mobile phone app that discovers disease and saves lives in Africa

Mobile phones are used for a variety of reasons: To keep in touch with friends and family, to conduct business or even to keep one entertained using various social media apps. Now, imagine if that mobile phone could prevent a health epidemic. Sounds like science fiction but that is what the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Polio Geographic Information System (GIS) Technology is doing in 43 countries in Africa.

Speaking at the African Health Forum held in Praia, Cabo Verde, WHO Regional Director for Africa told participants of the session that this was one of the most exciting things happening in the WHO regional office in Africa.

How will the app work?

Health workers visit remote villages to check if local inhabitants have any symptoms of a range of life-threatening infectious diseases, such as polio and measles. Then, with the mobile app, they quickly and easily alert WHO.

The system allows WHO and health ministries to monitor in real time the visits that people and caregivers make to the most remote areas and to make sure that people most in need are being reached.

“Overlaying the geographical location of the mobile phone signal and the route of the roads, we noticed that sometimes visits were only made along the main road and not to the most remote places, which is where we need to be if there is a problem,” explained Dr Moeti in describing the GIS app.

Supported by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation and created primarily for polio surveillance, GIS uses the AVADAR (Auto-Visual AFP Detection and Reporting) computer platform, which records changes in the health of inhabitants and identifies possible disease outbreaks.

“The AVADAR is very versatile and simple and can be used by everyone,” said Dr Magaran Bagayoko, Acting Director of the Health Systems Strengthening Cluster.

With more than 6 000 community outreach workers and more than 1 000 health workers, the programme for research and geographical control of diseases is the future of health surveillance.

WHO hopes that this will ensure that diseases are not just prevented but that they are completely eradicated.