Researchers at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Tanzania, in collaboration with the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS), have developed an mHealth app for community health reporters to detect and report epidemics to healthcare authorities.

The android and web-based app, called AfyaData – which means ‘health data’ in Swahili, originated out of an idea put forth in 2014 when health experts from across Africa, Asia and North and South America gathered to identify the challenges preventing early detection and timely reporting of viral outbreaks, such as Ebola and cholera.

With funding from US-based philanthropic organisation, Ending Pandemics, the app was officially launched in May this year and has since rolled out to five districts in Tanzania and is being used by 400 community members and health officials.

According to the Director-general of the National Institute for Medical Research, Tanzania, Yunus Mgaya, this new method of detecting and reporting diseases is cheaper than traditional surveillance systems.

Through the AfyaData app, the community health reporters can collect data on signs and symptoms of suspected diseases, as well as GPS location and attach a photo, and then send it to a server where it can be accessed and analysed by healthcare experts.

Based on the collected information, these experts can then make a diagnosis and provide feedback or inform the relevant authorities as to whether a potential outbreak needs to be contained. What makes the app so important is that all of this can be done in real-time.

“The app makes it possible to map out all reported health threats on location and can establish the burden of the problem,” Regional ICT Specialist at the SACIDS, Eric Beda, told SciDev.Net.

According to Associate Professor at the SUA, Dr Esron Karimuribo, who contributed to the development of the app, AfyaData complements existing strategies put in place to improve efficiency in surveillance of infectious diseases at the national, regional and global levels.

He added that due to its successful rollout in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo is seeking to engage with the researchers to roll it out in their own country to track Ebola patients.

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