Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cell Phones to Fight Epidemics

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) manages a program to find out about epidemic outbreaks in real-time using new healthcare monitoring and information collection technology in South America and Africa.

Building off of an original project funded by ONR, researchers are collecting data through a text message-based system set up to take advantage of widespread access to handheld devices in Columbia and Zambia.

Through the collection of photos, videos, texts, and geo-location information from cell phones in a given population, researchers are able to perform complex data analysis, track, and map a fluid situation such as an earthquake or the spread of disease.

Limited technical infrastructure in developing countries often can slow humanitarian aid and hamper responses to disasters. ONR seeks to use smartphone apps since more people in developing countries have cell phone subscriptions than access to the internet throughout the world especially in lower income populations.

According to Commander Joseph Cohn, Program Officer in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, “Real time epidemiological data allows military decision-makers to be medically prepared and more locally able to provide quicker responses to potential disease outbreaks in close quarters which is common in military facilities like ships.”

The project also includes funding from Naval Sea Systems Command working in partnership with the Zambian Ministry of Health, the University of South Alabama, and Tiny People Matter, a global medical relief team that provides care for children and infants in developing countries.

“This effort shows it doesn’t require expensive solutions to effectively collect highly structured data from local populations in some of the least networked locations around the globe,” according to Commander Cohn.