Ebola Outbreak: Where Are The mHealth Apps?

Staff Writer | mHealth News | October 8, 2014

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa and now the U.S. is surely among the most high-profile incidents wherein mobile health technologies could have proven their mettle. While some apps are already effective tools for public health workers, the sense in the industry is that apps are not being leveraged to the fullest extent and that more coordination is needed to use them as an asset.  The Ebola crisis, in fact, is showing a need for healthcare apps to respond to the disease quickly on the ground with point-of-care mobile diagnostics, four Sierra Leone-based doctors wrote recently in The Lancet.

Mobile technologies can offer early warning systems, response to outbreaks and communication among doctors and local officials on the scene and international health authorities, Rashid Ansumana, Jesse Bonwitt, David A. Stenger and Kathryn H. Jacobsen wrote in the article.  “Our laboratory and others in the region have shown that routine syndromic surveillance systems can be designed to rely on mobile phones which have become ubiquitous in West Africa,” the doctors wrote. “Open-source software programs that receive and send bulk SMS messages can be used for communication with populations and peripheral health centers.”

What’s more, digital maps replete with satellite images can be added to an open-source geographic information system (GIS) to improve case mapping, the authors explained.  Among the useful apps being deployed is a website and database created by Boston Children’s Hospital researchers, called healthmap.org, which has thus far been able to track the disease since soon after its outbreak in mid-March in Guinea.  The eight-year-old website site incorporates Twitter, social media feeds, online news aggregators, as well as public health reports to offer a global view of  infectious diseases...