HP Donates webOS Smartphones for Malaria Surveillance Effort in Botswana

HP is donating Palm Pre 2 mobile phones to health care workers in Botswana to help them detect cases of malaria.

Along with the nonprofit organization PING (Positive Innovation for the Next Generation), Hewlett-Packard has announced it will use its webOS mobile operating system to bolster surveillance of malaria outbreaks in Botswana.

CHAI (the Clinton Health Access Initiative) and mobile network provider MASCOM are also collaborating on the effort, announced on June 6. MASCOM provides the airtime and data-transfer capabilities for the project, HP reports.

In 2002, former President Bill Clinton founded CHAI to enhance care and treatment for HIV/AIDS, malaria and other conditions. HP is also working with CHAI on testing of infants for HIV.

In Botswana, HP will provide 700 to 1,000 health care workers with Palm Pre 2 smartphones to collect data on malaria cases and geotag the locations of outbreaks with GPS coordinates. The Palm Pre 2 devices will also allow workers to collect pictures, audio and video.

The first-ever map of disease transmission in Botswana will be created from this yearlong project, of which the first phase has been completed.

In addition, mosquito nets will be distributed in the country based on where the data indicates there is the most urgent need.

Health care workers will share data on the webOS devices using the cloud through an application PING has developed for the platform. Researchers in the field will also use text messaging to spread the word of outbreaks to the Ministry of Health.

"In addition to surveillance, we're also looking at how can we use this combination of mobile technology and back-end cloud as not just a prevention program but an education program," Paul Ellingstad, director of global health for HP's office of global social innovation, told eWEEK.

With mobile phone use on the front end and cloud computing on the back end, HP is able to transform how government and public health officials operate, according to Ellingstad.

"That in turn is bringing not only social benefit, but we're starting to look now, too, at how we can calculate the economic benefit both to governments as well as to society for making this sort of technology transformation," he said.

Using mobile technology rather than paper-based research could speed detection of outbreaks from weeks down to hours as well as improve quality control over a process in which records are eventually entered into Excel after being transcribed six or seven times, Ellingstad explained.

"If you're in Botswana, you might not even know there's an outbreak occurring for a couple of weeks," he said. "You just go on doing what you've been doing, using insecticide."

Quicker notification via text messaging will allow mobile users in Botswana to spread the word of outbreaks in real time.

By enabling the use of mobile technology in areas such as Botswana, HP is helping to break through the "last frontier in IT," according to Ellingstad. "Global health has absolutely been the laggard," he said. "It's still very paper-based in terms of process."

To make the mobile technology even more accessible, HP is considering licensing use of webOS to other companies looking to develop applications for the platform, Ellingstad said.

In 2009, more than 780,000 people died from malaria across the world, according to the World Health Organization.

HP is also working with mPedigree, a mobile phone operator that helps people in Nigeria and Ghana communicate about counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

In addition to collaborating with CHAI on AIDS testing, HP also has a partnership with Mothers2mothers, a nongovernment organization that helps prevent HIV transmission from mothers to infants.

With research to be done during the remaining nine months of the malaria project in Botswana, HP plans to gauge how similar technology can be used to track tuberculosis and conduct additional HIV testing, Ellingstad said.

"What we've been doing is demonstrating through pilots like the one with PING that you can use technology," he explained. "It's not difficult-you make the lives of health workers a lot easier."