In Darfur, the Ministry of Health, WHO and partners have developed a mobile phone-based infectious disease surveillance system designed for use where resources and facilities may be limited. Traditional pen-and-paper methods of disease reporting are not efficient or practical in complex emergencies in developing countries. Instead, reporting formats can be provided on mobile phones, making it easy for health providers to enter data and send reports. Such a system will help reduce errors, decrease the time used in reporting and facilitate compliance with reporting schedules.
An early warning system has been established in 103 health facilities across South Darfur with over ten diseases to be reported on a weekly basis and four diseases reportable on a daily basis. The health facilities were equipped with mobile phones; having been briefed on the use of short text messages, the health providers send a short daily text message to the focal points, including zero reports.
There are some challenges. Despite recent improvements, not all areas have mobile network coverage, resulting in an incomplete picture of the health situation. However, combining the mobile phone service with a paper-based reporting system in areas where there is no network access gave good coverage. The use of satellite phones in areas off the network would help to strengthen the system further. Even in areas where the network is working, there is a shortage of electricity supply to recharge the batteries; future interventions should consider the use of mobile phones with a silicon solar panel embedded into the shell of the phone.
Whenever possible mobile phones with geographic information system (GIS) capacity should be used. The reporting system can be programmed to automatically generate coordinated data for each text message, which could help to track the disease reported with more specified locations.
Kebede Deribe (email@example.com) is Health Coordinator in South Darfur for Merlin (http://www.merlin.org.uk). This article was written in a personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the views of Merlin.