Monitoring Malaria Trends in Mali Using Cell Phones
Cell phones are improving the frequency and efficiency of how malaria-related data are reported in Mali. presented the project’s successes and challenges at the 61st American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting in November 2012. N’Gbichi spoke as part of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-organized symposium titled, “Every Last Case: Innovations in Malaria Surveillance in Low-Income Settings.”, a monitoring and evaluation resident advisor with MEASURE Evaluation in the country,
The Mali project is being carried out in 40 health centers in the Niono and Macina districts. The work started as an effort to help gather more accurate data in order to analyze malaria-related trends more effectively, such as the number of new cases and how many deaths are occurring.
The ongoing project consists of a system that contains malaria-related statistics and information that can be accessed by those on the system by entering a code into their cell phones. N’Gbichi said having this system accessible on cell phones is helpful for individuals who live in more rural areas and may not be able to access the Internet regularly or at all. “Almost all health centers have good cell phone coverage,” he said.
MEASURE Evaluation created the system by working with a local developer, Yeleman. First, an assessment of existing tools and registers was conducted, followed by developing a paper-based form. Yeleman then created a Java application and transcribed the form’s information into a Short Message Service (SMS) format that everyone on the server could access. MEASURE Evaluation also collaborates with ICF International, Mali’s National Malaria Control Program, the Mali Ministry of Health branch that works with health information, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, and community health districts on the project. All of these organizations have access to the SMS server.
Before the SMS server came along, the country primarily relied on a quarterly reporting system (known as RTA, or Rapport Trimestriel d’Activités), for which health center staff record malaria-related information into paper forms. Health district workers then type the forms up and save that information via flash drives, which they send to the national level. Those involved at the national level then enter this information into a national database. The RTA system is still being employed in conjunction with MEASURE Evaluation’s SMS project.
N’Gbichi said the SMS system has advantages because it can be used to gather data monthly and not just quarterly. He also said the data quality is better because workers can enter their data directly the first time from the paper-based form instead of data potentially being misunderstood or misinterpreted when they are entered multiple times by different individuals, as is done with the RTA system.