Ebola: Could mHealth be a Key Weapon?
In early September, 2014 when Dr. Tom Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said “it is the world’s first Ebola epidemic, and it is spiralling out of control. It is bad now and it is going to get worse in the next future. There is still a window of opportunity to stamp it down, but that window is closing. We really have to act now” not many people paid attention to him. From that time, the disease has spread quickly from south Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to Spain, U.S.A, `Germany, France, United Kingdom, Norway, Nigeria and Senegal. Since the first patient, a two-year old child who died in southern Guinea on 6th December 2013, there has been 9,216 confirmed cases and 4,555 victims of the deadly Ebola virus disease as confirmed by the World Health Organisation. Nigeria and Senegal have recently been declared Ebola free, showing that with concerted efforts from health workers, government and the general public, the war against Ebola can be won.
The mhealth industry has seen massive growth in recent years especially in 2014. The Ebola outbreak presents the biggest challenge to showing the efficacy and efficiency of mhealth to industry experts, investors and consumers. mHealth is successfully winning the fight against Ebola, which should clear the doubt of mhealth naysayers. Nigeria’s use of mhealth tools (app, social media, Voice messages and SMS etc) to successfully contain the Ebola outbreak in the country has placed mhealth in a new league amongst health workers, the government, and the general public. The WHO recently supported a statement made by the Nigerian Minister of Communication Technology Omobola Johnson who was quoted saying “The phone app helped in reducing reporting times of infections by seventy-five percent,” said Johnson, speaking at the International Telecommunication Union’s Plenipotentiary Conference Oct. 21. “Test results were scanned to tablets and uploaded to emergency databases, and field teams got text message alerts on their phones informing them of the results.”
In the past, there has been wide spread debate on the competence of mhealth as a tool for public health use, especially with an obvious lack of a ‘global success story’. Prior to this, most successful mhealth apps have been used as fitness and wellness apps, with the recent surge in wearable devices and IOTs. But the use of mhealth in curbing the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria will breed a new-life into the mhealth campaign. It would tell the world that mhealth apps are not just ornamental apps we download in our phones but very important tools in public health and epidemic control. The use of mhealth so far in the recent outbreak includes; information dissemination, coordinated responses, GPS/geo-tagging and contact tracing, public health education and post outbreak information to prevent future outbreaks.
Despite the success of mhealth in containing Ebola in Nigeria, there is still need for stakeholders to release concise rules and regulations, Government support, and collaboration between health workers and the software developers. In his statement during the declaration of Nigeria Ebola free Nigeria, Former Minister of Health in Nigeria, Prof. Chukwu Onyebuchi made another warning “As long as there is a case of Ebola virus disease in any part of the world, every country, every human being on this planet is at risk” Paraphrasing him, “As long as there is a mobile phone in any part of the world, every country, every human being on this planet is connected”. Therefore , there is hope for the future.