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Maasai Vets Carry Out Disease Surveillance of 86,000 Animals With Google Mobile Phones

Maasai vets in East Africa are using mobile phones to monitor diseases including anthrax and rabies as part of a partnership involving London-based academics. The Google mobile phones are helping to record how diseases are spreading in order to bolster preventative action, including vaccination campaigns. The new project in rural Kenya is led by the charity Vetaid and is backed by Google UK, which has donated 23 G1 Android devices to the surveillance effort. Data relating to more than 86,000 animals from 1,600 farms has already been logged via the mobile phones in the last month.
Deadly diseases, versatile phones
The vets and community animal health workers are using the phones in the Kajiado district, central Kenya. The project relies upon the software EpiCollect - a mobile data collection tool which has been loaded onto the devices and was created by researchers from Imperial College London. EpiCollect allows the vets to upload their findings to a central website which plots where diseases are occurring.  A wide range of diseases are being monitored: the deadly cattle disease East Coast Fever; anthrax and rabies, which affect both animals and humans; Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), which affects sheep and goats; and foot and mouth disease – a potentially fatal disease affecting cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The phones have also been  loaded with a range of educational resources, including photos and videos, for veterinary fieldworkers.
Veterinary perspectives
Dr Gabriel Turasha, a Maasai vet and the regional coordinator for Vetaid in East Africa, is leading the surveillance teams. He said: “The mobile phones are really improving real time access to information. You can send a message to report an outbreak. There is better communication and their role in today’s society is very crucial.” His colleague Dr Ezra Saitoti, a Maasai vet working in Kenya for Vetaid, added: “I am very optimistic that we can contain further spread of these diseases. If you can pinpoint the location of the problem, and we are able to do that with the phones, you will be able to come up with a proper solution.” Nick Short, a founder of Vetaid and Head of eMedia at the Royal Veterinary College, added: “Mobile phones are now commonplace in Africa and their use for disease monitoring and control can provide enormous benefits to animal and human health in the future."
Software developer's perspective
Dr David Aanensen one of the researchers behind EpiCollect from Imperial College London, said: “We’re really excited that our software is being put to such good use in East Africa. We hope our tool will help the vets and farmers get a much clearer picture of the diseases that are affecting their animals. Ultimately, this should make it easier for them to treat these diseases – either directly or through vaccination - and to target resources where they are most needed.”
The disease monitoring mobile phone project is a collaboration between Vetaid, the Royal Veterinary College, Imperial College London, the Institute of Education and LIDC.
Notes to editors
• For more information contact Nick Short, Head of eMedia at the Royal Veterinary College ( nshort@rvc.ac.uk or 07811 405653 ), or visit: http://androidsinafrica.blogspot.com/
• The EpiCollect application was designed by researchers at the School of Public Health, Imperial College London and is funded by The Wellcome Trust. For more information on EpiCollect contact David Aanensen (d.aanensen@imperial.ac.uk or 07508 048380), or visit http://www.epicollect.net
• For more information about the use of mobile phones to monitor disease visit  http://www.lidc.org.uk/news_detail.php?news_id=89 , or listen to the LIDC podcast Improving Animal Health in East Africa at http://www.openair.fm/components/com_podcast/media/Episode_4_Final_Mixdown.mp3