Livestock sector Kenya - Farmers and veterinarians across Africa are increasingly using cell phones to issue alerts quickly about possible animal disease outbreaks at a very early stage and to track wide-scale vaccination campaigns, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has said.
Mobile phone applications are making ‘early warning’ a matter of seconds instead of weeks for animal disease outbreaks, and essential veterinary care can be tracked with pinpoint accuracy and speed, thanks to the Global Positioning System function now directly integrated in most cell phones.
“FAO and partners are piggy-backing on this enormous uptake of mobile phone technology for uses in reporting animal disease outbreaks, tracking vaccination campaigns and the delivery of veterinary treatments, such as deworming animals,” said Robert Allport, FAO Kenya’s Assistant Representative for Programme Implementation.
In Kenya, for example, where three out of four people now have a mobile phone, FAO has partnered with the Royal Veterinary College and local NGO Vetaid to support the pilot testing of a mobile phone application developed by researchers at the Imperial College London’s School of Public Health.
The application, called EpiCollect, helps to track animal vaccination and treatment campaigns. The application and storage space are provided for free on the EpiCollect website, which assigns a unique location for each project.
That location is known only to the users – such as national veterinary officials and field vets – involved in the project. The EpiCollect database is not searchable, so prying eyes won’t find potentially sensitive information.
“Cellular phones eliminate delays in receiving field data, since all the information is relayed via the mobile network,” said Allport.
In addition, the information is assigned a geographic location, so locations are extremely accurate and available in real-time.
Until only some five years ago, veterinarians would have to travel to remote locations, record data, and then travel back to district-level offices to process the paperwork, says the UN agency.
Now, the information can be transmitted in real time. The data – for example on the total number of livestock in a herd and the number of animals vaccinated – is stored and then relayed to the project location on a project-specific website.
As herds move from one location to another, for example for fresh pasture, their movements can be regularly followed and updated.
At present, EpiCollect is only being used by field veterinarians with phones provided by Google Kenya for the testing phase, as the tools are honed and glitches ironed out according to feedback coming from users.
Eventually, the tools could be made available to village elders and well-established networks of community animal health workers, as more and more Kenyans upgrade to Internet-enabled phones and prices for the technology inevitably come down.
Although only a third of Kenyans have access to the Internet at present, 99 percent of those Internet subscriptions are for access from a mobile phone.
FAO also has a Global Animal Disease Information System, known as EMPRES-i, which can house and display data on disease outbreaks gathered from the field once outbreaks are confirmed.
FAO has developed the EMPRES-i Event Mobile Application (EMA), which will feed reports on animal disease outbreaks into the database.
The technology, available for phones with Blackberry and Android operating systems, is scheduled to be field tested by Ugandan veterinary services in the first half of 2013, as a first pilot supported by the government of Ireland. EMA is also being developed for iPhones.
Without delays, animal diseases can be quickly detected and isolated when alerts come in digitally.
Early warning can prevent the death of tens of thousands of animals, thus safeguarding livelihoods and food security, and preventing diseases that can sometimes be passed to humans.