By Tope Falodun and Emerald Awa-Agwu
Functional disease surveillance systems provide data that can be analyzed to yield insight for planning, project execution, monitoring, and evaluation of public health interventions. For a priority disease like Polio, surveillance systems are important because they monitor the burden of the disease and alert health systems of any increase in the occurrence of the disease in any location of implementation, ahead of time.
A key element that is often missing in disease surveillance systems is intersectoral action. In the past, the responsibility of finding, investigating, reporting and monitoring AFP cases rested solely on the disease surveillance officers (DSOs). This resulted in incomplete data because the DSOs could not cover every single community, and also manual errors as DSOs had to enter reports using paper-based tools. Recognizing this, eHealth Africa (eHA) partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), Novel-T, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Ministries of Health in eight countries including Chad and Niger to develop the Auto- Visual AFP Detection and Reporting (AVADAR) system for improving AFP case identification and reporting. The goal of the project was to support health systems in polio-endemic and high-risk countries to find, report and investigate AFP cases using available, context-appropriate resources, in this case, community members.
By partnering with local communities and enlisting members to serve as informants and investigators, some of the pressure on disease surveillance officers who performed all three functions of finding, investigating, reporting and monitoring suspected AFP cases were relieved. In addition, AVADAR infused digital data management and reporting innovations through the mobile application. With this, community informants report cases of suspected AFP via the AVADAR mobile application. The investigators receive alerts of these reports on their mobile devices, locate the cases, investigate and collect stool samples for further laboratory tests in cases of true AFPs.
In 2017, AVADAR was launched in 6 pilot districts in Chad and three pilot districts in Niger. By 2018, the project expanded to an additional three districts in both Chad and Niger. In total, eHA trained 849 and 509 community informants in Chad and Niger respectively. eHA also supported the training of 177 investigators by the WHO in Chad and 178 investigators in Niger. Within these periods, eHA supervised the activities of the informants, investigators, and technical officers, and also resolved technical issues relating to the mobile application, telecommunication, and network access on Android phones.
After almost three years of supporting the health systems in Chad and Niger through AVADAR, it was evident that the model worked. eHA successfully handed over the continuation of the project in the pilot districts to the Ministries of Health and the World Health Organization in Chad and Niger. A total of 109 first and second line technical support officers in the two countries, were trained to continue to handle and resolve any technical issues that may arise.
At eHA, we support health systems to effectively monitor and eradicate communicable diseases like polio by developing and supporting the development of creative surveillance methods and innovative data management solutions.