Biosurveillance – What does it mean?
Keeping tab on outbreak of diseases. Its done by the Health Department of our Government of Tamil Nadu in our state. So far I do not have any knowledge on this subject.
Fortunate to get invited by Prof.Ashok Jhunjhunwala from IITM for a press conference on “Real Time Bio-surveillance Program” on the afternoon on 7th July’10.
But there was an interesting workshop which preceded this press conference which pulled me to arrive there in the forenoon itself. After attending this session at the Research Park campus at the IITM, came to know of many of the interesting aspects involved in such an exercise.
How the present system of bio surveillance works?
The first of the information such as symptoms of the disease / epidemic gets to be known to the nurses working for the concerned village, probably attached to the Village Health Centre or the Primary Health Centre.
This exercise involves the nurse to record various data in a form as provided by the government. Each of the nurses have a few villages for them to cover and they go far into these places carrying bundles of forms which may weigh nearly 7 Kilos in total. They get to record the diseases and the various attributes as need to be noted in the form. End of the day, they go back to their office and submit these forms. Even if there is no disease or any symptom, “Null” gets reported for the day. These forms go to Primary Health Centre and finally to the Deputy Directorate of Health Services. The movement of the paper which might have taken not less than 15 days of journey finally ends at District Health Centre where the data is then fed into the central server of the Health Department.
With the umpteen number of human intervention and multiple modes of transport, the time between the info received by the village nurse and the data recorded into the server will take not less than 15 days, sometimes a month.
Given the vitality of the information during an epidemic, the response that could be taken based on this system gets to play a spoil sport. It takes some 3 to 5 weeks to know the health statistics of the population.
What if this whole system responds in an instantaneous manner??
The Rural Technology Business Incubator is pushing into play a new project called Real Time Bio-surveillance Program (RTBP) which is going to make the need of a paper and pen almost to null.
All it needs is a simple JAVA based mobile phone with GPRS connection. Once the project which is now in pilot is successfully implemented in our country, the story of nurses carrying 7 Kilos of paper bundles will be talked as if it was a Stone Age practice. The time to get the data recorded into the Health Dept’s server is almost instantaneous. This pilot project is getting tuned at the backyards of our own Tamil Nadu in the district called Sivaganga.
He is Dr.Raghupathy, Deputy Director of Health Services, Sivaganga District. Implementing this project is not an easy task. The work involves an additional burden right from the Deputy Director till the Village Health Nurse. But given the benefit of near instantaneous response this project going to gift us in the near future, their toil is worth it.
How this new system of bio surveillance works?
The village nurse gets to click a link on their java phone and download the software in it. This software gives out a form where they record the data. Initially the records needed to be typed for each of the alphabets, which was not only cumbersome and time consuming but also increases the probability of error to creep into the system. But the tech team back at RTBI has made little changes to it. Now typing the letter A will give suggestion for diseases starting with “A”. Just go down and click, its recorded.
I thought these nurses would be having difficulty in using English. But during the Q hour, I got my thought beaten down. One of the Nurses asserts that, it was too much easy for them now to use English in her mobile phone. She votes for English to use in her mobile phone.
Such an advancement in our home land. WOW
Literally they have not used their phone for anything other than making/receiving a call. Now they have mastered their phone. All this has not happened in two days, but more than a year in implementation and with the field project associates of the RTBP constantly motivating them and responding to their queries to assist them in trouble shooting their queries. There were instances where the whole software was deleted from the phone.
Its exciting to know that such a project is going to deliver a robust emergency preparedness module for our country in times of any health hazard. As if to eliminate the chances of errors in a typical keying in routine, Prof.Padmashri Ashok Jhunjhunwala has quipped that this project will soon be getting a voice based response system which should eliminate the need of typing and a computer directly interacts through voice with the village health nurse and records the data into the central database.
“This project was not about just meeting its objectives, both at research and in implementation. It was about seeing it through as it is genuinely perceived as a way to go, path to future. RTBI in Chennai, LirneAsia from Sri Lanka, Auto Lab from USA and National Centre for Biological Sciences in Banglore, though not only joined hands with different skill sets (Technology, Research, Implementation and Liaison with Government respectively) but also are striving to achieve one goal as in how this project can be integrated to mainstream processes, scalable not just in Tamil Nadu but across our country India. The intent is not to eliminate paper alone, but how can we get across the information faster and in a more effective manner. After all, we still do carry notepad to take notes, but at the end of the day email/call to get the word across faster” quips Suma Prashant the Vice President of Exploratory Initiatives of RTBI, IIT-Madras and she fails not to mention that it is her team that saw this through, and adds on to give due credit to Dr. Ganesan, Ms. Vincy and Mr.Janakiraman.
If you feel of direly missing this one day workshop, I am sure your visit to my FaceBook photos will quench you a little.