In public health circles, few diseases have been discussed as widely as malaria. Philanthropists such as Melinda and Bill Gates have also given millions of dollars for research to create a vaccine to eliminate malaria and save the thousands of individuals that die from this debilitating disease each year.
While we are nowhere close to the invention of a vaccination for malaria, there are numerous interventions that help in combating the increasingly prevalent drug-resistant parasites. One such intervention is the use of eHealth or using smartphones to record vital data on patients and the progress of their treatment. Thailand, a country that has witnessed numerous malaria epidemics over the last century, has adopted this technology on a large scale. One of the reasons that Thailand has been quick to adopt this technology was the malaria parasite’s resistance to artemisinin, one of the most effective drugs to treat malaria. The parasite’s resistance to artemisinin would have had potentially devastating consequences for the population considering that the number of Malaria cases increase significantly during the rainy season. Other than Thailand, neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar were also at great risk. In fact, Thailand and Cambodia launched a joint monitoring, prevention and treatment project in seven provinces along their shared borders.
The eHealth project was launched in 2008, a time when health care workers were still recording patient data manually. Data collection and analysis was becoming increasingly arduous because of the large volume of data involved. Since the time workers began using electronic means to help them with the data, a malaria-information system (e-MIS) has been uploaded on their devices, which gives them access to patient information, the status of their treatment and malaria patterns in other areas in the country. World Health Organization personnel in Thailand have reacted positively to the use of this technology because it allowed workers to obtain the most updated versions of data and contributed significantly to controlling the artemisinin-resistance parasite. The success of eHealth has led to an expansion in its use to 44 provinces in Thailand. Health care workers are extremely pleased about this intervention because it helps them obtain information instantly, analyze trends and act quickly.
Malaria is a widely prevalent disease that afflicts millions of people all over the world. The use of eHealth in countries in Africa and Asia, where malaria is endemic, would benefit public health workers greatly and reduce largely preventable deaths that run into hundreds of thousands each year.
Aditya Mehta is a College junior from Mumbai, India joint majoring in Sociology-Religion.