The EMPRES-i Event Mobile Application (EMA) allows national veterinary authorities to use smartphones to report disease outbreaks. It also allows district veterinary officers to access disease reports submitted by colleagues. During the second half of 2013, the app was tested in a pilot which took place in ten districts of Uganda selected by the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology Center (NADDEC). The national authorities and district veterinary officers who took part in the pilot asserted the utility of the surveillance of animal disease, and urged that it should be expanded to all districts in the nation. FAO is encouraging other countries to test and use the app to improve disease reporting in the field.
Rapid response is key to effective disease control
Between July and December of last year, FAO assisted veterinary authorities in Uganda with the implementation of the EMPRES-i Event Mobile Application. The web-based app is currently available for Blackberry devices and phones with Android technology. Previously, one of the biggest challenges faced by Ugandan veterinary authorities in the surveillance and control of animal diseases was the timely reporting of data. There was a time-lag between when an infected animal was identified and when key data was delivered to laboratories. This created a considerable barrier in the process, as the effectiveness of disease control is determined largely by the speed of response. The EMA allows veterinary technicians to enter key epidemiological data into a global database directly from the field using their smartphones.
For example, when a veterinary technician in the field examines an infected animal, they use the app to enter the epidemiological data, including photographs of the animal in question. The data, which is automatically geo-referenced, is collected in a report which is sent to the Global Animal Disease Information System (EMPRES-i). Once the report is received, the data is verified and validated, and it is either published on the EMPRES-i public website, or maintained in the internal database, depending on circumstances.
The app also allows users direct access to the database. It provides a mapping functionality, called “near me,” that generates data on disease outbreaks in the surrounding areas.
Part of the apps’ success comes from the fact that it has been specifically created taking into account the difficulties faced by developing countries in transmitting and storing data. While internet coverage can be limited in these areas, telephone networks have a wide signal and coverage. Moreover, even if a user temporarily loses phone signal, data can be stored in the device for a later transmission.
FAO and Uganda Government working together to implement the app in the nation’s veterinary system
The EMA is the latest FAO initiative to expand the use of mobile communication devices eyeing to enhance disease control. Having previously used SMS and digital pen technology to transmit information during avian influenza field projects, the progression to smartphone technology was the next logical step.
On 25 January, 2013, a workshop on the National Veterinary Services of Uganda was held in Entebbe. FAO animal health experts and Ugandan authorities discussed animal information systems at national level, and the use of mobile devices to improve disease reporting and information gathering. With both factors in mind, they agreed to implement a pilot activity for the EMA.
FAO's objective was to facilitate the exchange of disease information between farmers, the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology Center, ten District Veterinary Officers, and the Chief Veterinary Officer.
The Organization provided smartphones to the chief vet, epidemiologists at the centre and the district vets, as well as two computers and a power backup for the centre. During a five-day training session all personnel were taught how to install and use the app, as well as how to implement the standard procedure for reporting and validating a disease.
The participants voiced support for spreading the use of EMA to all districts in Uganda.
“I see this as an opportunity to control if not even eradicate some diseases,” said Dr. Nicholas Kauta, the Chief Veterinary Officer of Uganda.
The success of the pilot has exponentially increased enthusiasm for the app, and FAO is encouraging other countries to test out this new tool.