I was riding down the highway from Kenema to Freetown with partners from BRAC when it came over the radio that for the first week in more than 18 months there were no new cases of Ebola reported in Sierra Leone.
I was visiting Sierra Leone on a 21-day trip as part of a USAID grant to Dimagi to expand the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) for Ebola response and recovery. This news was an important milestone in the fight against Ebola, and represented the collaborative work of the government in Sierra Leone, the people and so many NGOs that have been on the frontlines responding to different components of the Ebola crisis. During my three-week trip, I saw firsthand how many of our partners have pulled together to fight Ebola – and how mHealth capabilities are helping to strengthen the fragile health systems in Sierra Leone.
Armed with mHealth solutions, organizations are tackling the many challenges that Ebola has wrought on the communities it has touched. While we worked on many projects in Sierra Leone, two projects best demonstrate the potential of mHealth in the continued fight against Ebola:
- Mobile apps aid contact tracing in Port Loko: In Port Loko, we had the opportunity to support Innovation for Poverty Action (IPA) in transitioning the CommCare app they developed for contact tracing to GOAL, who will be taking over the supervision of 500 UNFPA contact tracers going forward. With the number of contacts thankfully dwindling, this trained mobile corps of frontline workers will now focus on following up to any negative EVD discharges from an ETU, any missing contacts from earlier tracing efforts and any suspected secret burials. This kind of close monitoring will help Sierra Leone to remain at zero Ebola cases. Furthermore, the introduction of mobile apps is helping to ease the work of contact tracers, whose jobs require courage and dedication.
- School attendance – monitoring the aftereffects of Ebola in Freetown: In Freetown, we worked with our partner International Rescue Committee (IRC) to test and revise an application they will use to take attendance in 450 schools in six districts nationwide. School attendance is of particular concern as the schools reopen because there are fears some students will not return to school because of lost livelihood to cover school fees during the crisis. Teen pregnancy is anecdotally thought to have increased during the crisis as well. When schools reopen, IRC will use CommCare to closely monitor school attendance to identify issues and follow-up directly with families and local leaders on the whereabout of missing students. This will help get kids back into schools, where they belong.
My trip ended with a two-day conference on the use of ICT to respond to Ebola and save lives. I had the opportunity to hear President Ernest Bai Koroma speak on the realized importance of IT in the management of the Ebola crisis, and the plan to expand the use of eHealth and mHealth to prepare for future crises. Local telecommunication companies are striving to expand coverage and the government is working to clarify regulation and improve infrastructure.
With so many promising projects underway, I cannot help but feel optimistic for the state of health in Sierra Leone going forward. I’m excited Dimagi is helping these partners implement their programs more effectively and report outcomes more efficiently.