HP, the innovation company that started out making oscilloscopes and waveform generators, and then swept through the personal printing business like a tidal wave, has moved (through their acquisition of Palm) into the cell phone business, where they are exercising the same spirit of technological innovation in the battle against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.
Partnering with the youth-led Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING) in Botswana, they are leveraging the power of wireless technology to quickly identify new outbreaks of the disease and take action promptly before it has a chance to spread.
Here’s how it works: Somewhere between 700 and 1000 health care workers in Botswana are being equipped with HP-donated web-OS Palm Pre 2 cell phones which they use to gather malaria data using an app which then uploads it to a cloud. If enough individual cases are found to indicate an outbreak, that information is immediately shared via text message. Workers can also tag data with pictures, video, and audio. Mosquito nets, which are quite effective in preventing the spread of the disease are then dispatched to the identified location along with medicine and other anti-malarial weapons.
This is a big improvement over the existing system, where reports trickle in from health clinics scattered around the countryside. According to Paul Ellingstad, Director of Health Initiatives for HP’s Office of Social Innovation, “within hours when you have the beginning of an outbreak, health officials are alerted.” This will result in a first-ever real time map of disease transmission.
“In addition to surveillance, we’re also looking at how we can use this combination of mobile technology and back-end cloud as not just a prevention program but an education program,” Ellingstad said.
Botswana is being used as a test site, because of its political stability, its high penetration of cell phones (highest on the continent) and the widespread incidence of the disease.
Malaria is making a comeback in some countries such as South Africa and Madagascar that had effective control programs in place.
PING has formed partnerships with both the Ministry of Health and Mascom, the largest network provider in the country to tackle malaria, HIV and TB. Because 60% of Botswana’s population is under the age of 24, the country’s future truly relies on the involvement of young people. The program provides training in IT, health care and innovation to the volunteers, who in turn make a real contribution to battle against these serious health threats.
Katy Digovich, PING’s director of operations says, “there is a lot of excitement and positive feedback from health-care workers.” Once the program expands, it may include reporting for other deadly diseases, including tuberculosis and Ebola. “We’re hoping to add them one by one,” says Digovich.
Also involved in the project is the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) which was founded in 2002, as the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, with the primary mission of “strengthening integrated health systems in the developing world and expanding access to care and treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.”
In addition to prevention programs such as this one, CHAI is also involved in the distribution of low cost treatment options such as artemisinin-based combination therapies.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 780,000 people died from malaria across the world in 2009.
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.