mHealth takes on Ebola in Nigeria

Country now declared by WHO to be Ebola-free
By Erin McCann
11:14 AM
Omobolo Johnson
In what's being hailed as a "spectacular success story," the World Health Organization has declared Nigeria free of the Ebola virus transmission, with public health agencies and government officials citing a mobile health initiative as largely responsible for the triumph. 
Shortly after the WHO declared Africa's most populous country Ebola-free for 42 days Oct. 20, Nigerian Minister of Communication Technology Omobola Johnson credited a social media campaign and a real-time reporting Android app used during the outbreak as integral in containing the deadly virus.   
"The phone app helped in reducing reporting times of infections by seventy-five percent," said Johnson, speaking at the International Telecommunication Union's Plenipotentiary Conference Oct. 21. "Test results were scanned to tablets and uploaded to emergency databases, and field teams got text message alerts on their phones informing them of the results."

The phone app, utilized by health workers in Nigeria, was provided by the Santa Ana, Calif.-based non-profit eHealth & Information Systems Nigeria. Mobile plans among Nigerians have skyrocketed from 87 million active users four years ago to more than 131 million now, Johnson pointed out, in her statement.

Even WHO officials acknowledged the success of the nation's mHealth initiative, a collaborative effort among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Nigerian government health officials and others. Health officials were able to reach 100 percent of all known Ebola contacts in Lagos, the initial site of outbreak, and nearly 100 percent at Port Harcourt, the nation's second outbreak site. 
"Vehicles and mobile phones, with specially adapted programmes, were made available to aid real-time reporting as the investigations moved forward," WHO officials wrote in an Oct. 20 situation assessment. "The use of cutting-edge technologies, developed with guidance from the WHO polio programme, put GPS systems to work as support for real-time contact tracing and daily mapping of links between identified chains of transmission."
To date, 20 cases of the Ebola virus have been confirmed in the West African country, with eight confirmed deaths.
Myriad factors also contributed to the decline in Ebola cases, WHO officials noted. For one, the Nigerian government acted strong and fast in its response to the outbreak, setting aside "generous allocation of government funds." A virology laboratory established in Lagos, in addition to social media and radio campaigns also helped reach those vulnerable. 
Some 4,877 people have lost their lives from what the World Health Organization has called the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history. Nearly 10,000 people have confirmed and suspected cases reported. 
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