Fighting Bird Flu With Cellphones
Friday, August 18, 2006
Indonesia Goes Wireless to Overcome Reporting Delays on Cases of Deadly Disease Excerpt: In Indonesia it often takes days, if not weeks, for reports of bird flu to find their way to health authorities in Jakarta.
The delay can prove deadly. Earlier this year, the killer H5N1 virus spread among several members of a single family, likely originating with sick chickens that slipped under health officials’ radar.
Now Voxiva Inc., a small Washington, D.C., company, has developed a cellphone-based technology that aims to speed up and improve the reporting of flu in birds. Training is set to begin in October for field workers using the technology, which is expected to shave days off a reporting process often done with paper and pencil in the developing world, Voxiva says.
Using what is essentially a souped-up version of the short message service — the text-messaging technology common on digital cellphones — Indonesian workers checking birds at quarantine stations can enter predetermined codes to send information about actual and suspected flu cases.
If a quarantine worker at a checkpoint spots a truck with 50 chickens that died overnight on the road, he could enter “1*50*1” indicating he saw a single truck carrying 50 dead chickens, the company says. In that hypothetical scenario, the second “1” could indicate the birds had died; if the chickens had only fallen ill, that detail might be coded with a different number.