Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Two examples from Jeffrey Sachs

From his article "Expert Systems Fight Poverty" in the April 2010 Scientific American:
On a recent trip to Africa, I saw two simple but powerful examples of lifesaving protocols enabled by mobile phones. In the Ghanaian village of Bonsaaso, part of the Millennium Village Project, a simple phone-based system is lowering maternal mortality during childbirth. Community health workers (CHWs) with basic training, a skilled midwife, an ambulance driver and a receiving hospital use mobile phones to coordinate as a team. Ever more deliveries now take place in the clinic rather than at home; in the event of complications, the mother is whisked to a receiving hospital about 10 miles away. Mobile phone connectivity among community, clinic, ambulance and hospital makes possible a once unthinkable degree of coordination.

In the Kenyan village of Sauri, also part of the Millennium Village Project, CHWs are pioneering the application of expert systems for malaria control. In the past, suspected malaria patients had to walk or be carried to a clinic, often miles away, have a blood smear read under a microscope by a trained technician and, if positive, receive a prescription. With clinics few and far between and with trained technicians and microscopes even scarcer, untreated, lethal malaria ran rampant.

In the new approach, CHWs visit households on the lookout for fevers that may signify malaria. They carry rapid diagnostic tests that examine a drop of blood for the presence of the malaria pathogen. Then they send an SMS (short service message) text with the patient’s ID and the test results. Seconds later an automated text response informs the health worker of the proper course of treatment, if any. The system can also send reminders about any follow-up treatments or scheduled clinic visits for the patient. The new system of malaria control includes insecticide-treated bed nets made to last for five years and a new generation of combination drugs based on a traditional Chinese herbal treatment, artemisinin.

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