UCC scientists land €3.7m funding to use mobile apps to combat disease in Malawi

11 Jun 2013

The Supporting LIFE consortium of international universities led by two professors at University College Cork (UCC) has been granted €3.7m in EU FP7 funding to provide low-cost, effective, targeted mobile health apps to improve child health and disease and address inadequate healthcare infrastructure in the African country of Malawi.

Dr John O’Donoghue and Dr Joe Gallagher, co-directors of the Health Information Systems Research Centre (HISRC), Business Information Systems, University College Cork (UCC), are coordinating a multinational group of experts in UCC, the University of Oxford, Lund University, Mzuzu University, Accelopment and two NGOs in Malawi.

At present, the major causes of mortality in children under five years of age in Malawi are malaria and infantile diarrhoea, as well as pneumonia, measles, sepsis, and meningitis.

In fact, almost one in ten children in Malawi die before their fifth birthday and, on average, only 1 in 3 children with fever are taken to a health-care facility. The areas most affected are rural regions where adequate health-care facilities are lacking and access to appropriate care, with prompt symptom and illness recognition, as well as treatment, is scarce. 80pc of the population of Malawi live in rural areas.

Smartphones and sensors to support life

The Supporting LIFE project will apply a novel combination of smartphone technology, wireless body area network sensors and expert decision support systems to equip the Ministry of Health’s front-line health-care workers in Malawi with mobile devices and applications to assist in their assessment, diagnosis and treatment of seriously ill children.

The groundwork for the project was laid through the Science Foundation Ireland funded Electronic National Early Warning Scorecard project, led by Prof. Frédéric Adam, and it also received support from Enterprise Ireland and the Health Research Board.

“The impact of Supporting LIFE will be immediate as the e-IMCI application will provide local HSAs with an easy to use and effective decision support tool,” Dr Simon Woodworth, Senior Researcher at the Health Information Systems Research Centre (HISRC)

“In remote and rural areas of Malawi this will be critical for improving point of care diagnosis and treatment of seriously ill children. Not only that but mobile devices are widely used, even Android smartphones and tablets are being adopted, and Malawi is currently rolling out advanced mobile phone networks such as 4G. Supporting LIFE also leverages these strengths by using e-IMCI as an educational solution for HSAs to foster on-going knowledge exchange, communication, support and training.”

Mobile health image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years