A pioneering tool for gathering health data now being used in Kenya could herald a revolution in the way diseases are tracked and defeated around the world. It uses mobile phones to better connect patients with medical and health personnel, and allows data to be gathered in real-time and used to track health and improve the delivery of services, especially to remote and under-serviced areas.
In the past couple of years, Kenya has become a hotbed of mobile phone and information technology innovation. The now-famous Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform (www.ushahidi.com) is just one example. Social enterprise Data Dyne (www.datadyne.org) – with offices in Washington DC and Nairobi, Kenya – is offering its EpiSurveyor application (www.episurveyor.org) free to all to aid health data collection. It bills itself as “the first cloud-computing application for international development and global health … Think of it as like Gmail, but for data collection!”
EpiSurveyor claims to have more than 2,600 users around the world and is currently being upgraded to a second version.
“With the touch of a button I can see what’s going on across the country in real time,” Kenyan civil servant Yusuf Ibrahim told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It is amazing.”
Ibrahim works in Nairobi as the Kenyan Ministry of Health liaison to Data Dyne.
He uses maps and charts on mobile phones to track deadly disease outbreaks and vulnerable pregnancies.
The EpiSurveyor application works simply: A user logs into the website and builds and creates the sort of form they want. They then download it to a phone and start collecting data straight away.
Ibrahim gathers this data from mobile phones used by health care workers across the country.
“It used to take days, weeks or even a couple of months to find out about an outbreak of polio on the other side of the country,” he said. “Now we know almost instantly. The speed with which we can now collect information has catapulted healthcare and prevention to another level. It has completely changed healthcare and saved countless lives.”
He proudly points out Kenya’s mobile phone data collection system is “probably better than what they’ve got in the West.”
“Although we are a third world country, I’m pretty sure we’ve done this before
Western countries. While they are still collecting information in hard copy on clipboards, we are getting it instantly.”
Packed with data processing power, mobile phones are capable of an immense range of tasks and applications. Some see phones as key to a revolution in how healthcare is provided: the mobile phone becomes one-part clinic, another part mobile hospital dispensing advice and transmitting vital information back to healthcare professionals and scientists in hospitals and labs.
Despite dramatic improvements to the quality of hospitals in Africa and the number of qualified doctors, the continent’s healthcare services are still a patchwork, with rural and slum dwellers poorly served and the stresses of treating patients with contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria pushing resources to the limit.
The United Nations has a number of initiatives partnering with mobile phone manufacturers, networks and software developers as part of a global campaign to reduce HIV/AIDS, malaria and deaths in childbirth.
EpiSurveyor is being used by more than 15 countries’ ministries of health and is the adopted standard for the World Health Organization (www.who.int) (WHO) for electronic health data collection.
It began as a partnership with the United Nations Foundation, The Vodafone Group Foundation, WHO and the ministries of health of Kenya and Zambia in 2006 to pilot test the software for EpiSurveyor.
At the United Nations Foundation (www.unfoundation.org), chief executive Kathy Calvin equates the impact of mobile phones on global healthcare to the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin.
“Instead of building clinics and roads to remote towns and villages so that people can access healthcare, we are bringing healthcare directly to the people via mobile phones. You get a lot more healthcare for your money,” Calvin told the Telegraph.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
Why even bother printing (on paper) Southern Innovator as a magazine? “What about the trees and we live in the digital age!”, some might say.
There is evidence and science supporting the need to always publish Southern Innovator in print as well as online. First, a study of the World Bank’s online publications came to a shocking conclusion: A survey in 2014 found a third of World Bank publications are never downloaded, 40 per cent were downloaded just 100 times, and only 13 per cent were downloaded more than 250 times in their lifetime (The Washington Post). As The Washington Post pointed out, these are publicly funded publications with the intention of contributing to policy debates and providing solutions to the world’s problems. So, if nobody is reading them, or just a handful are, that actually does matter if you care about positive change in the world.
Secondly, a Norwegian study in 2014 from the Stavanger University (part of Europe-wide research into the impact of digitisation on the reading experience), found “… that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,” according to lead researcher Anne Mangen (The Guardian).
An earlier study the researchers did also found “students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally” and that “Studies with students, for instance, have shown that they often prefer to read on paper”, continued Mangen in The Guardian.
Another issue is Internet shutdowns, outages and censorship. All of these have been on the increase, especially in Africa (africanews.com). To put it simply, you cannot electronically shutdown a piece of paper.
All over the global South, urban and semi-urban areas are growing at a furious pace. Great swathes of mega-regions – places where large cities blend seamlessly into smaller towns and villages creating a giant economic hub – are becoming key economic and opportunity drivers in developing countries. One of the downsides of this rapid growth and economic vitality is the chaos and confusion brought by frenetic change. Into this busy landscape steps the fast-moving new world of everywhere computing, where computers exchange information with almost everything in the environment. A Ghanaian information technology pioneer and entrepreneur is changing perceptions about Africa by using the new technology of Semacodes – and proving a semblance of order can arise from the chaos and bustle of the street.
Semacode – a smart 2D barcode – was developed by Canadian Simon Woodside and is a tool to make everywhere computing a possibility. It works by embedding a web address into a 2D barcode called a tag which can be affixed to buildings, street lamps, and other landmarks. If one would like to know more information regarding the area they are in, all they need to do is find the nearest Semacode and use their internet-enabled camera phone to scan and read the code. A camera phone containing the Semacode’s Software Development Kit (SDK) detects and decodes the tag and sends the user the web address using the phone’s built-in browser. The user quickly learns what businesses and services are in the area and what the current street name is.
With code developed in Ghana called Semafox, one can create Semacodes for objects and contexts using a web browser – (http://sohne.net/semafox/). It is now being adapted by Ghanaian entrepreneur Guido Sohne to solve the common African problem of chaotic cityscapes brought about by rapid change, high turnover of businesses and changing street names. This handy tool has the power to revolutionise how people communicate and do business in the South, and a rival technology using a similar concept – QR code – is already widespread in Japan. Semacode also has its own user-contributed community website, Semapedia, to produce semacodes for any object or building.
Sohne is a computer code developer working for CoreNett – a Ghanaian electronic transaction processing company – and has been working on developing the code underlying the semacodes, and also piloting its application on the streets of Accra, the capital. Sohne (a former Kofi Annan ICT Centre for Excellence developer-in-residence), is an excellent example of how an IT innovator in the South is linking up early in a new technology’s development to help develop and evolve it.“It is rare to find African-created technology being used today in Western cyberspace,” concludes Sohne. It “is indeed a step forward for African technology as well as an indication of the benefits of collaborative development based on liberal software licensing such as open source software.”
Published: June 2007
You can download the Semacode reader software, here. This includes software for mobile phones and computer servers.
The latest stories and updates on Semacode can be found here.
A thorough explanation of rival technology QR Codes and their impact in Japan and how they work, can be found here. At present, QR Codes are used in a variety of ways, from linking to content and advertising in magazines and newspapers, to food product labels, public transportation signage, and as a way to communicate between people on the street.
Southern Innovator was initially launched in 2011 with the goal of – hopefully – inspiring others (just as we had been so inspired by the innovators we contacted and met). The magazine seeks to profile stories, trends, ideas, innovations and innovators overlooked by other media. The magazine grew from the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) since 2006. A selection of books and papers citing stories from the magazine are featured below to aid researchers, in particular those interested in health and human development and the role of innovators in international development.
“Innovation is critical to growth and development in Africa. In the context of a continent characterized by fast growing economies as well as an array of socioeconomic challenges, such as high levels of poverty and inequality, innovation in Africa must be understood in an encompassing manner. Africa needs to support the emergence of its own Silicon Valleys, but it must also foster the invention and adoption of cleaner technologies that limit respiratory illnesses, deforestation and combat climate change. This book contains a number of analytical case studies that examine the nature and origins of emerging high-end innovation hubs in Africa. These “hubs” or ecosystems are both understudied and little known inside and outside the continent. With this analysis, the book highlights and draws lessons from some of the most promising and successful innovation cases in Africa today, exploring the key factors driving their successful emergence, growth and future prospects. Relevant for scholars, policymakers, and business leaders, the book provides both inspiration and useful policy advice that can inform strategies and concrete measures to speed up the pace of innovation in Africa today.”
“Research on gated communities is moving away from the hard concept of a ‘gated community’ to the more fluid one of urban gating. The latter allows communities to be viewed through a new lens of soft boundaries, modern communication and networks of influence.
The book, written by an international team of experts, builds on the research of Bagaeen and Uduku’s previous edited publication, Gated Communities (Routledge 2010) and relates recent events to trends in urban research, showing how the discussion has moved from privatised to newly collectivised spaces, which have been the focal point for events such as the Occupy London movement and the Arab Spring.
Communities are now more mobilised and connected than ever, and Beyond Gated Communities shows how neighbourhoods can become part of a global network beyond their own gates. With chapters on Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, this is a truly international resource for scholars and students of urban studies interested in this dynamic, growing area of research.”
“The economic, political and social situation in Chile shows a country in transition. Some observers anticipate a broad “reboot” of the nation. While Chile is still seen by many as an example of progress in South America and of developmental potential in the global South, it faces a complex political constellation, particularly in the aftermath of the re-election of Michelle Bachelet. Many wonder how social and institutional innovations can be incepted without interrupting the country’s remarkable success over the past decades.
This book provides an interdisciplinary analysis of Chile’s situation and perspectives. In particular, it addresses the questions:
What is Chile’s real socio-political situation behind the curtains, irrespective of simplifications?
What are the nation’s main opportunities and problems?
What future strategies will be concretely applicable to improve social balance and mitigate ideological divisions?
The result is a provocative examination of a nation in search of identity and its role on the global stage.
Roland Benedikter, Dr., is Research Scholar at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, Senior Research Scholar of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Trustee of the Toynbee Prize Foundation Boston and Full Member of the Club of Rome.
Katja Siepmann, MA, is Senior Research Fellow of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Washington D.C., Member of the German Council on Foreign Relations, and Lecturer at the Faculty of Interdisciplinary Cultural Sciences of the European University Frankfurt/Oder.
The volume features a Foreword by Ned Strong, Executive Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University, and a Preface by Larry Birns, Director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Washington D.C., and Former Senior Public Affairs Officer of the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America (Santiago, Chile).”
“A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants investigates how the social works in determining health and health inequity. Taking a global perspective, the book shines a light on how experiences of health, illness and health care are shaped by a variety of complex social dynamics. Informed primarily by sociology, the book engages with the WHO’s social determinants of health approach and draws on contributions from history, political economy and policy analysis to examine issues such as class, gender, ethnicity and indigeneity, and the impact they have on health. A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants is a comprehensive resource that provides a new perspective on the influence of social structures on health, and how our understanding of the social can ensure improved health outcomes for people all over the globe. Toni Schofield is Associate Professor at the University of Sydney. She specialises in research and teaching in sociology, and public policy and administration.”
New Directions in Children’s and Adolescents’ Information Behavior Research edited by Dania Bilal and Jamshid Beheshti (Emerald Group Publishing: 2014)”This book comprises innovative research on the information behavior of various age groups. It also looks at special populations such as ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and users with disabilities. The book presents research and reflections on designing systems that help the new generation cope with a complex knowledge society.
Economy Reports for APEC Economies on demographics, policies & ICT applications for people with Special Needs (Seniors and People with Disabilities), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group, January 2013
If you would like hard copies of the magazine for distribution, then please contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation: Website:http://ssc.undp.org/content/ssc.html. If you would like to either sponsor an issue of Southern Innovator or place an advertisement in the magazine, then please contact email@example.com.