Mobile Data Collection: A Leapfrog Technology for Health Improvement
“For too long, the world’s information (and the world’s tools for collecting and understanding and using that information) was limited to the richer countries. Now the world has changed so much that a tool created in Kenya can benefit gorillas in Uganda, mothers in Central America, school children in Zambia, and a hospital in Washington DC. And all because of these common miracles—the Internet and the mobile phone that are binding us together as never before.” ~ Joel Selanikio, “Mobile Phones and the Power of Data Collection”
Many typical data collection methods such as telephone interviews and email or online surveys are not broadly feasible in lower-resourced countries, where landline infrastructure and Internet connectivity may be patchy or absent. Mobile technologies are creating a “leapfrog” effect—jumping over earlier stages of infrastructure and technology development completely, rather than waiting for them to catch up. For example, many health organizations around the world are using mobile phones to collect vital health information to design, evaluate, and make adjustments to their programs.
- The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) used volunteer interviewers equipped with mobile phones and EpiSurveyor software in the fight against malaria in Nigeria.
- Internews recently completed an EpiSurveyor survey of information needs among refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps in Northern Kenya.
- Data collectors in Peru used the software system for HIV analysis work among indigenous populations.
- A Management Sciences for Health (MSH) team in Malawi piloted the free version of EpiSurveyor in a malaria supervision project. (A detailed report on MSH’s March 2010 pilot outlines some of the advantages and disadvantages of the free system.)
A team of programmers in Kenya developed the EpiSurveyor system, which can be used on major brands of phones including Nokia, Samsung, BlackBerry, and Sony Ericsson. The web site lists specific phone models which have been tested or are in beta testing. The site also features a 10-minute video on how to create a form and collect data using the system.
Dr. Joel Selanikio, formerly of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and technologist Rose Donna, formerly of the American Red Cross, founded DataDyne (the company that created EpiSurveyor) in 2003. The United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation provided initial funding for DataDyne.
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