Collecting accurate, timely data from remote rural areas is a challenging problem. A BBC report claims that health authorities in Kenya have successfully done just this and furthermore, that there has been a significant health improvement. By monitoring patient symptoms and treatments, health workers claim to have stopped a polio epidemic. The system has won the prestigious Stockholm Challenge for Health. DataDyne.org, a not-for-profit consultantcy creating mobile information and communications technologies to serve public health and development, was also named a 2008 Tech Awards Laureate, one of 25 global innovators recognized each year for applying technology to benefit humanity and spark global change. The World Health Organisation has announced that it is taking this system to a further 20 countries in Africa.
So what is the technology behind this success story? EpiSurveyor is an open source software package that can be downloaded free of charge and changed by anyone to make it even better. It runs on a mobile phone or a PDA. Given that the mobile phone has spread to many poor communities in remote locations this becomes an existing platform from which to use the health application.
The story shows two things. First that using an existing technology platform provides a way of spreading new technologies; and second, that open source software allows for more rapid spread of technology that can be tailored to local circumstances.