Harnessing Technology to Improve Global Health

Sophisticated information and laboratory technologies are vital tools in The Task Force’s work to control and eliminate diseases and increase access to quality health care for people in developing countries. Using a smartphone-based data collection system, we map the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) to determine where interventions should be implemented. We use portable molecular technology and tablet-based systems to detect and diagnose NTDs within populations. We also use diverse technologies to help developing countries manage their healthcare workforce in order to meet the health needs of their populations.

Smartphone App Maps Prevalence of Neglected Tropical Diseases

A smartphone-based data collection system called LINKS is helping 37 countries map the prevalence of neglected tropical diseases, including blinding trachoma, river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis. LINKS was recently used to conduct the largest disease mapping project ever undertaken – the Global Trachoma Mapping Project – in which 2.6 million people were examined for trachoma. Data that might have taken years to transcribe and analyze using paper forms can now be transferred to the cloud for analysis in real time, greatly enhancing efforts to control and eliminate NTDs.

Portable Molecular Tool Detects Diseases within Populations

Task Force and Smith College researchers have developed a portable molecular tool that uses DNA from mosquitoes to assess the presence of insect-borne infections such as lymphatic filariasis (LF) within human populations. The process takes 75 minutes start to finish and the tool itself can run off a car battery, something especially useful for countries with unreliable or limited electrical supplies. A positive result using the test indicates that mosquitoes are picking up disease-causing parasites within the human population. The portable tool is being used in pilot studies to assess whether LF is present within populations, which will inform the scale up or scale down of interventions to eliminate the disease.

Excel-Based Tool Helps Countries Optimize Allocation of Their Healthcare Workforce

The Task Force partnered with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Jhpiego to develop a workforce allocation tool to help developing countries address shortages of healthcare workers and better meet the health needs of their populations. The web-based tool takes into account healthcare workers’ preferences and the health needs of each region to determine where to assign healthcare workers. In Mozambique, the tool has significantly reduced reassignment requests by nurses in just two years. Tanzania is now piloting the workforce allocation tool and Zimbabwe is exploring whether the tool will benefit its health system.

Tablet Diagnoses Lymphatic Filariasis in the Field

The Task Force is collaborating with a Colorado-based company called Mobile Assay and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to deploy a new tablet-based technology for diagnosing lymphatic filariasis in the blood. Conventional methods for diagnosing lymphatic filariasis rely on healthcare workers to interpret test strips to determine whether or not there is evidence in the blood of parasites that cause the disease. The tablet provides a more reliable reading than what healthcare workers can do on their own. Accuracy of these tests ensures accurate diagnosis of LF and also helps track the disease’s prevalence within populations.

Human Resource Information Systems Help Countries Manage Their Healthcare Workforce

Robust human resource information systems are vital to countries in managing their healthcare workforce. The Task Force’s African Health Workforce Project is supporting Kenya and Zambia in building these systems to manage their healthcare workforce. The systems help ensure adequate supply and distribution of the workforce and allow countries to plan more effective health programs and policy. In Kenya, most healthcare workers can use the system to renew their licenses online, which has greatly improved compliance with licensing requirements.

Leg Scanner Aids in Study of New Treatment for Lymphatic Filariasis

An innovative iPad-based 3D scanner is being used in a clinical study of an antibiotic for reducing painful leg swelling associated with a disfiguring neglected tropical disease called lymphatic filariasis (LF). Originally developed by the Atlanta-based company LymphaTech for treating breast cancer patients, the infrared volume scanner measures leg circumference to create a three-dimensional model. In the clinical trial, researchers will use the scanner to determine whether doxycycline reduces swelling and acute attacks of inflammation in people with LF. The low-cost scanner could potentially be made more widely available to developing countries for use in treating a variety of medical conditions.


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