Connecting malaria reporting to 21st Century information systems

GlaxoSmithKline is going to be testing its malaria vaccine candidates in the very places where malaria is most endemic and “where people are actually suffering infection” – unfortunately these are often remote and lack communication access to the outside.  Chris Dannen reports that –

The solution to GSK’s connectivity problem: satellites. Each clinic site has a small satellite (dish) mounted on a concrete pad. Otherwise, the sites are relatively simple: a few outbuildings and gasoline generators for electricity. There are a handful of computers, one to run an x-ray machine, and another two or three serve as data collection points, where workers can also access e-mail and the Internet. The satellite connects back to GSK’s central data collection system …

We recently visited the Sege Health Center in Dangbe East District of Ghana and saw a satellite dish installed right outside the small outbuilding that served as the clinic’s records office.  Inside we found that health data were being entered in a computer and were told that the satellite connection enabled the staff to forward data to the regional authorities.  Included of course were data on IPTp and malaria case management at this rural outpost.

Cell phones are also connecting people with malaria messages. “MTN is planning to use its texting feature to remind people to use their bed nets and seek treatment for malaria, increase malaria education with a major ad campaign and distribute nets and malaria information at its cell phone sale centers.”

Researchers at UCLA are exploring ways that cell phones can be integrated into malaria diagnostics. The researchers “envision people one day being able to draw a blood sample into a chip the size of a quarter, which could then be inserted into a (Specially-)equipped cell phone that would quickly identify and count the cells within the sample. The read-out could be sent wirelessly to a hospital for further analysis.” This would become a ‘medical lab in the palm of your hand.’

The US President’s Malaria Initiative is promoting cell phones for data reporting in Zanzibar:

Using a cell phone, each health facility reports data on a weekly basis via a customized text messaging menu developed by Selcom Wireless, in collaboration with ZMCP (Zanzibar Malaria Control Program). The malaria data are transmitted to a server, where they are processed and presented in two formats. First, a summary of each week’s surveillance data (for Unguja and Pemba separately) is sent via a single text message to the ZMCP program manager, district medical officers (DMOs), and other Ministry of Health authorities. Second, for easy viewing of malaria trends over time, the server automatically generates graphical images viewable on a secure Web site.

These experiences show that it is not enought to deliver malaria control services. Systems must be in place for reporting on these activities and on malaria surveillance in a timely manner so that better progrmmatic and policy responses can be made to count malaria out.

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