March 5, 2007

Cellphones open front in global fight against disease

1741.gif To Rwanda's top HIV/AIDS official, communication within the national health care system can be slow enough to present an actual threat to health, reports the IHT.

"Information from clinics is written on a piece of paper that a porter carries by hand to the district before the information can be brought to Kigali," said Dr. Innocent Nyaruhirira, who holds the cabinet-level post of minister for HIV/AIDS. "We are a country of one thousand hills, so it often takes one month to receive a message from the field about a disease outbreak or drug shortage."

The travel time cripples drug-supply management, prevents live tracking of disease outbreaks, undermines monitoring of health programs and delays delivery of laboratory test results back to patients.

Enter Voxiva, a U.S. company that has built a system for individual health workers to send reports by cellphone directly from the field. ... Voxiva's system is also being used in Indonesia for avian flu reporting and in India to test a new drug for leishmaniasis, a disease spread by sand flies.

In Rwanda, the system started tracking HIV/AIDS patients two years ago and now connects 75 percent of the country's 340 clinics, covering a total of 32,000 patients.

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