Piloting Real-Time Data Collection
By Rachael Massonne
How can you truly know what is going on in a community if the data that you get is five weeks old? And how do know that the data that is reported was actually collected from the field and not just made up? What if there is an outbreak of something and you don’t know about it?
These were the questions I had for the manager of the Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) which report to Iguhu County Hospital in Kakamega County, Kenya. Because for me as a Field Epidemiologist, good data is the basis of all good healthcare activities - without accurate data, the best-planned activities can go to waste.
Currently each month the CHVs gather at Iguhu County Hospital and report monthly collated data. They then discuss any issues and upcoming events within the community. It was during one of these monthly meetings with the Ivonda CHV team about preparing for a cholera outbreak that the idea of mobile phone reporting popped into my brain - what better than real-time household-level data to improve the outcome of public health activities?
In researching this idea I discovered that mobile phone technology within low-resource settings is an exciting and fast-growing area with many large NGOs investing copious amounts of time and resources. From published articles of similar projects, I discovered CommCare, a platform for creating and managing mobile phone applications which is currently being used to strengthen public health projects across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
Whilst building the app was relatively easy, the deployment of the app was, and continues to be, a challenge. Pretty much everyone in Kenya has a mobile phone (or two), but not everyone has a smartphone. Although the cost of an entry-level smartphone has dropped dramatically in recent years, the price is still prohibitive for most of the CHVs whose main source of income is agriculture, and the idea of purchasing smartphones for a project is neither sustainable nor feasible.
Despite this challenge, July 1, 2015 saw the start of a one-month trial of the Iguhu CHV Reporting app by those CHVs who already own a smartphone, and the first reports coming in are encouraging – sure there are a few small hiccups, but it wouldn’t be a pilot without them right? At the end of the trial we plan to compare the data collected by those using the app to those using pen and paper to see whether household level data reported within minutes of it being collected is ultimately better for the community because real action can take place, changes can be made and lives can be saved.