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FAO smartphone app shows potential for improving disease surveillance and reporting in Uganda

05 August 2013 - FAO recently launched a pilot project for a mobile application to report disease outbreaks in ten districts in Uganda. Funded by the Government of Ireland under the One Health initiative, this pilot represents the first time the application is being introduced at national level for disease reporting.

In January 2013, a team of FAO animal health experts met with Ugandan authorities to identify challenges in disease surveillance and reporting. During the following six months, FAO and the authorities collaborated to implementing the pilot project on the EMPRES-i Event Mobile Application (EMA). EMA facilitates the exchange of information on disease reporting between farmers, the National Animal Disease Diagnostics and Epidemiology Center (NADDEC), ten District Veterinary Officers (DVOs) and the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO). Together with the national authorities, FAO established ten target districts, a list of participants and their needs, a work flow and a list of priority diseases.

For the pilot, FAO provided internet-enabled smartphones to the CVO, epidemiologists of NADDEC and DVOs. Two PCs and one power back-up were also distributed to the NADDEC offices.

How EMA works: the ten DVOs collect data from farmers and enter it into their smartphones. The application generates a report and sends it to NADDEC personnel. NADDEC then verifies and enters pertinent information into the EMPRES-i database. Once the information is validated, the system sends a report to the CVO and other officers from the Ministry of Agriculture. The system also sends the report to the original DVOs to inform them of disease outbreaks that might concern them in neighbouring districts.

The application serves to not only create a clear line of communication between the different actors, but also to improve internal communication systems between DVOs and within NADDEC. Another of its advantages is that the application automatically generates reports on animal diseases, accelerating the speed of information exchange. Its mapping function allows the user to zoom into an area and see the data relative to any confirmed or suspected disease outbreak. Crucially, the application allows for confidentiality. EMPRES-i acts as a data repository where all sensitive information is collected. Only the concerned participants have access to their national data.

During the training period from 8 to 13 July 2013, the DVOs, NADDEC personnel and the CVO were given guidance to understand how to install and use the application and implement the standard procedure for reporting and validating a disease.

FAO and the authorities tested the application during the training and the farm visit. The users were able to see their inputs appear on their screens in real-time during the training session when their reports were uploaded to the EMPRES-i database. This gave participants the opportunity to see the entire process take place, and it highlighted the importance of knowledge made available in detail to a select group of concerned people.

Fairouz Larfaoui, FAO Disease Intelligence Officer, conducted the EMA training and continues to provide assistance to the participants in its use. She highlighted that “The tool shows real potential to improve communication among all actors, from farmer to CVO. With additional donor support, FAO and the Government plan to expand the pilot to all districts in Uganda for a truly national benefit.”

Through its application at a grass-roots level, the EMPRES-i EMA is able to guarantee a rapid, efficient and highly confidential communication channel. This allows for more immediate action during the occurrence of a disease outbreak. FAO is urgently appealing for additional funding to support the continued roll out of this system to benefit Uganda’s disease surveillance and reporting at the national level.


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