THE BLOG

WHO Is Wasting Vital Ebola Crisis Cash on Ineffective Smartphone Applications

17/11/2014 14:50 GMT | Updated 16/01/2015 10:59 GMT

The Western media may be taking less interest than before, but the Ebola crisis continues to rumble on.

Bob Geldof's Band Aid 30 will no doubt insert a new lease of life into the aid effort, but the 24-hour a day news slots have already been scaled back by programme producers, despite the threat in West Africa remaining very real and people continuing to perish.

It was therefore very welcome to hear last week that the World Health Organisation was finally calling on the potential of mobile health applications to help tackle the epidemic. It was less welcome to find they have adopted a variance of 21st century technology that is solely dependent on internet connectivity and smartphone access.

Put bluntly, WHO is wasting vital funds from the Ebola crisis kitty on a piece of kit that will not work in West Africa and costs too much to operate.

The principal is a good one. The world has plenty of technological capacity to deliver a mobile health solution that would help aid workers on the ground communicate between themselves and with the public, identify new outbreaks of the disease and accurately log areas most at risk.

More than that, we have the ability to communicate on a one-to-one basis with potential patients, informing them of symptoms and offering them advice on a scale not possible through face-to-face contact alone, no matter how many brave western doctors and nurses fly out to the affected nations.

Why, in countries with minimal internet infrastructure and very small circulation of modern day smartphones, has WHO not adopted a tried and tested, clinically proven mobile health service based on text messaging?

Relatively primitive in comparison to the iPhone or Android, of course, but mightily effective in countries where there are millions of old mobile handsets that can only be used for voice calls and SMS messaging.

The current Smart Health Pro app, in use with WHO, is only available with clinicians and not with the public until 2015, but then again only for the ones who have access to Internet and a smartphone. Samsung too have donated 3000 phones.

Both are making an admirable effort, but we need to do more - and fast. We need to harness the potential of old handsets and effective SMS messaging.

Mobile health can make a very substantial difference in the fight against Ebola. WHO seem to realise this. All that is needed is some smart strategic decision making on its implementation.