A dose of cell-phone surveillance helps aid workers save lives

A dose of cell-phone surveillance helps aid workers save lives

Cellphones are transforming the way in which aid workers are tackling the transmission of infectious diseases in Haiti. Photo:<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/41309185@N03/5497953826/sizes/l/in/photostream/">ambafranceht (flickr)</a>
Cellphones are transforming the way in which aid workers are tackling the transmission of infectious diseases in Haiti. Photo:ambafranceht (flickr)

In Haiti, aid workers may have saved thousands of lives by tracking the cell phones of displaced citizens.

Following the 2010 earthquake (which claimed the lives of over 200,000), and a deadly cholera outbreak that originated in a U.N refugee camp, public health researchers in the area discovered that they could harness Haiti’s burgeoning cell phone network in a unique way.

Researchers found that not only was it possible to anonymously track (via cellphone SIM cards) the movements of displaced citizens, but that in doing so they could also anticipate the spread of epidemics, NPR reports. This let aid and health workers reach areas of infection more efficiently, curbing the further spread and transmission of disease.

An additional benefit to utilizing the Haitian cell network was that medical workers were able to distribute health advice by way of text and voicemail messages to thousands of Haitians, tips on everything from re-hydration to breastfeeding infected babies.

Though this effort was one of the first of its kind, infectious disease investigators believe that similar techniques for future outbreaks around the globe have the potential to be equally effective. Add "epidemic control" to the consistently growing list of uses for mobile phones. At the pace that cellular and smart phone technology are developing, who knows what’s next?

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