Mobile Health Apps Have Role In Ebola Crisis

Neil Polwart | Information Week Healthcare | August 25, 2014

Mobile health apps could play a bigger role than they have to date in speeding the response to a global health crisis.

As mobile technology takes a more prominent role within our healthcare systems and the ability to manage and track one's own wellness shapes the mHealth marketplace, it is fair to question how these technologies can help in times of international crisis.  The Ebola virus is dominating global headlines and causing widespread panic across the African continent, not only because of its shocking mortality rate (over 55% so far in this outbreak) and growing death count (currently standing at 1,229, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), but also due to propaganda and hysteria related to claims of government conspiracies and punishment from God. More rational anxiety is spreading among intergovernmental organizations and aid agencies that understand that with no proven treatments this has the potential to become a much bigger problem than it already is.

What I find most disturbing as I follow this global crisis -- usually via Twitter or one of many news apps on my smartphone -- is the lack of coherence surrounding traceability. With cross-border and cross-continental travel becoming readily available to the African population, more must be done to track those who may have come in contact with the virus. In the absence of any effective treatment, traceability is key to containing Ebola's spread -- from understanding where the outbreak started and where infected patients are located (many of whom have fled quarantine) to obtaining up-to-date information on the spread of the virus and the 21-day patient monitoring process.

So how can mobile health technology help improve this situation, which Médecins Sans Frontières projects could take six months to control?  There are several key requirements to ensure that mHealth applications are available and usable in sub-Saharan Africa. The technology must be at hand, the applications affordable or free, and importantly, connectivity must be available...