The South African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS) held the first hacking for health African EpiHack in Tanzania in December 2014 to develop digital solutions for the detection and surveillance of disease.

SACIDS, in partnership with the East African Integrated Disease Surveillance Network (EAIDSNet) hosted the event attended by leading computer technologists, programmers and public health experts. The attendees jointly formulated and developed digital prototypes, adapted and refined digital tools for surveillance in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC) countries.

According to the Regional Lead at InSTEDD and iLab in South East Asia, Channe Suy Lan, who was tweeting from the EpiHack, some of the central themes were contact tracing, official data collection, feedback and two-way communication and community-based participatory surveillance.

According to the IPP report of the event, public health disease surveillance in Africa relies on paper-based systems which are inefficient in capturing disease events that occurred in remote rural areas where most Africans live.

Present at the event was the acting SACIDS Regional Medical Officer, Jacqueline Uriyo, who said: “Such paper-based systems usually fail to facilitate the health systems to effectively identify, prevent and respond to both endemic and periodic impact of infectious diseases.”

Uriyo explained that it took a long time to respond between the occurrence of index cases and epidemic diseases, such as the Ebola outbreaks, which were addressed four to five months after the occurrence of the index case.

“The situation should be reversed through adoption and deployment of digital solutions,” said Uriyo.

SACIDS commended various efforts and initiatives by the national, regional and international institutions who are seeking to improve early disease detection and responses with digital solutions.

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