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How Mobile Technology Is Fighting the Spread of Disease

Mobile technology is not new to health developments--cell phones have been put to task in an impressive range of technologies to improve public health. An important and relevant instance of this approach is the use of texting to address disease epidemics. This happens in a great variety of ways, including using SMS and related mobile technology to track diseases, and to encourage patients and doctors to take protective measures against rapidly spreading diseases.

A powerful example is Alerta DISAMAR, a project under the United Nations-Vodafone Foundation that uses text messaging to track the spread of infectious diseases as well as to create a valuable store of information for epidemiologists. Alerta DISAMAR was first conceived in 2001 following the death of two sailors in Peru from malaria, leading the navy to seek a way to stave off further harm.

The way Alerta DISAMAR works is quite simple. When a medical professional encounters a new case of illness, they contact a specific phone number first with their personal identification number and password, and then report the designated code for the illness they have encountered as well as details about the case, such as the patient's age, sex, and for how long they have been showing symptoms.

A major benefit of this project is that it alerts doctors of disease details and trends before a full-fledged epidemic begins. Time is of the utmost importance in health emergencies, so making this information available in real time is critical to the prevention of disease spread and the saving of lives.

In particular, the information about disease spread that the project has made available has been very valuable because it generates useful statistics. The figures garnered through this project have allowed professionals to observe trends and has therefore been very useful for health planning, as a strong base of data allows for better prediction of the spread of disease.

A separate program uses mobile technology to help treat those already infected by epidemic diseases rather than to track their spread. SIMpill, a project in effect in South Africa, relies on medicine bottles equipped with sensors and a SIM card to help treat tuberculosis. In this way, health professionals can monitor whether patients are taking their tuberculosis medication.

The results have been remarkable; compliance with tuberculosis medication increased dramatically from 22% to 90%. Of course, this change serves the dual function of not only protecting the health and lives of the patients but that of, in bolstering patients' treatment, preventing the spread of the disease.

This is nowhere near the end for mobile technology innovations to fight disease; the United Nations-Vodafone Foundation works with over 50 such programs worldwide, with several other projects using SMS to benefit public health in action or in the works. Though they may not be immediately obvious, the implications texting carries for public health are immense.

About the Author -
Sharon Housley is the VP of Marketing for NotePage, Inc. a software company for communication software solutions. http://www.notepage.net

 


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