Mobile phones are now pervasive in the developing world and have become reliable tools in assisting country programs in the collection of data related to the control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The ENVISION project is utilizing these new and exciting mHealth technologies to collect and transmit data in the field for use with survey tools for baseline prevalence mapping, impact assessment, sentinel site spot checks, and even routine reporting of key indicators. With the help of ENVISION and other partners, mobile devices have been used for data collection in Uganda, Mozambique, Tanzania, Senegal, Benin and Nigeria.
Why mHealth Matters
Mapping disease prevalence and establishing a routine reporting system on disease indicators is essential for national NTD programs to complete drug applications and to understand where interventions are needed and when treatments should stop. Data collection done through paper-based collection can require weeks or even months of staff time to transfer thousands of numbers into multiple spreadsheets before the data can be analyzed. Utilizing mHealth technologies, NTD programs are able to minimize staff time and maximize efficiencies, providing essential and timely information for program planning. “In the future, these mobile technologies will become even more important as we near control and elimination goals and look toward completing assessments in multiple countries. Mobile technologies are essential in reducing costs and staff time if we are to reach WHO elimination goals” says Phil Downs, Technical Advisor for the ENVISION Project at RTI International. Partnering with Ministries of Health, ENVISION has trained NTD program managers on routine data reporting and other survey work using a flexible system called LINKS that runs on mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, to facilitate data collection.
What is LINKS?
The LINKS application (app) is a mobile data collection platform, developed by the Task Force for Global Health, for uploading surveys, collecting data, and downloading data onto a cloud server. Most paper-based surveys and data collection tools can be converted into an electronic format and stored on a central cloud-based server that is accessible through the LINKS app. The LINKS app can be used on both smartphones and tablets, transferring data through a cellular network or wireless connection.
However, data collection can also be done offline and transferred once networks are available. As data is entered into the LINKS system, account administrators can view the data in real-time as well as GPS coordinates to display these subjects on a map. Real-time monitoring of the data allows access to timely and relevant health information that can be used to improve program decisionmaking and impact. The LINKS application can be used with any mobile computing device on the Android platform.
Piloting mHealth Technology in Uganda
Last year, the Uganda Ministry of Health’s trachoma program used Samsung Galaxy tablets for data collection in trachoma survey activities. Christine Niinsiima, a team member of the Uganda Ministry of Health’s trachoma program, was a member of one of five teams collecting prevalence data for trachoma using the new mhealth technology, which is known to be endemic in 35 districts of Uganda. “Mapping trachoma has become much more efficient with the mobile electronic tablets. The tablets have helped reduce not only costs, but also time—and the data collectors have really learned to adapt to the new method of data collection. Now results can be uploaded and analyzed immediately after collection,” says Ninsiima. With quick data analysis made possible by the mobile tablets, the Uganda NTD Control Program had time to apply for additional quantities of the antibiotic, Zithromax®, used in treatment of trachoma. Zithromax® is donated by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals through the International Trachoma Initiative.
For more information about LINKS and its use in the ENVISION Project, be sure to watch our video (above) and check out the Mobile Device for Survey Work: Guidelines for Administrators