117 Call Center

eHealth Africa and partners boost Sierra Leone’s surveillance capacity through 117 Call Center

Photo caption: Alexander Taylor, 117 Call Center Manager conducted a tour of the upgraded facility

Photo caption: Alexander Taylor, 117 Call Center Manager conducted a tour of the upgraded facility

Between 2018 and 2019, eHealth Africa (eHA) and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) worked together to ensure that Sierra Leone’s surveillance efforts were strengthened through the use of 117 Call Center.

The 117 Call Center is a Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation initiative that was set up in 2012 as part of a wider support system to improve maternal and child health. In 2014, eHA partnered with the Ministries of Health (MOH) in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to scale up existing universal toll-free numbers to become Ebola focused call centers. The 117 Call Center was scaled-up in response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak - to serve as a tool to document, track and provide follow-up on suspected EVD cases and deaths. The 117 Call Center provides an early warning mortality and syndromic surveillance system tool that can detect, prevent and respond to disease outbreaks. Communities are sensitized to call the 117  line and report all deaths, suspicious illnesses, and events. In Sierra Leone, the 117 Call Center has helped to solve many issues like improving community death reporting through mortality surveillance; real-time alert reporting for infectious death, increasing alert and data support to the maternal & perinatal disease surveillance.

Recently, the 117 Call Center has seen major transformation-from extending the facility and giving it a facelift, to upgrading software for a more efficient system that the peoples of Sierra Leone can trust and utilize.

We have upgraded the call center software for a more accurate and precise data collection. Our community health workers play a very vital role in reporting cases to 117. We have added a new caller category of Community Health Workers. We also provided internet services for all the districts for real-time reporting and data collection for 117. We have also improved on our SMS software service that now provides a single text code to a caller to receive the burial code which confirms that they have indeed called 117.
— Sally Williams, 117 Project Manager, eHA.

In an effort to get the districts more engaged, 117 is not just centralized in Freetown. Alert desks have been set up in all 14 districts with District and Data coordinators there to manage the calls in real time.

The 117 Call Center is making positive strides in the country and the upgrade has taken it to international standard. 117 is easier to rebrand, given its popularity across the country.
— Dr. A.J. Moosa, Deputy Director - Health Security and Emergency.

Strengthening the surveillance system in Sierra Leone through the 117 Call Center is an unending quest.

We are planning on re-branding 117 and utilizing the social mobilization officers especially in the districts so that we can reach a greater number of our communities and encourage people to call 117 for any and all emergencies!
— Sally Williams

The 117 Call Center actively participates in the Surveillance Technical working group of the government of Sierra Leone’s One Health Approach Initiative, where the most updated information is shared as received via our call centers to guide interventions. Every day, the 117 Call Center is striving to produce better quality data to drive the evidence-based approach when handling public health issues in the country.

Sierra Leone’s 117 Call Center Transitions Into A Sustainable Public Health Mechanism

By Hawa Kombian

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June 22nd, 2017 marked the official celebration of the 117 Call Center’s transition into a sustainable public health mechanism for Sierra Leone. This successful transfer of ownership has been highlighted as an instrumental step towards strengthening the ability of Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health & Sanitation (MoHS) to efficiently identify and respond to public health emergencies and other challenges.

Officials from the MoHS, UK Aid, eHealth Africa (eHA), and the United State’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gathered to mark this momentous occasion. The event was held at the Public Health National Emergency Operations Centre (PHNEOC) in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The 117 is a MoHS initiative set up in 2012 as part of a wider support system to improve maternal and child health. In 2014 it was scaled-up in response to the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreak - to serve as a tool to document, track and provide follow-up on suspected EVD cases and deaths. Funded through the Government of the United Kingdom’s  £13.7 million aid package to the Ebola Response Consortium, eHA provided technical and operational support to expand the 117 to every district in Sierra Leone. eHA developed a custom software to enable near real-time documentation of call details and the dispatching of the 117 calls to District Emergency Response Centers. This system also provided call-back services to deliver updates on the dispatching of health workers to original callers. 

Speakers (left to right): A CDC Representative, the Deputy Minister from the MoHS, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer from the MoHS, the Head of PHNEOC, and eHA’s Deputy Country Director of Sierra Leone. Photo: Hawa Kombian, eHA

Speakers (left to right): A CDC Representative, the Deputy Minister from the MoHS, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer from the MoHS, the Head of PHNEOC, and eHA’s Deputy Country Director of Sierra Leone. Photo: Hawa Kombian, eHA

Speakers at the event included eHA’s Deputy Country Director in Sierra Leone, the Deputy Minister of Health from the MoHS, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer from the MoHS, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, and several CDC representatives. 

“117 has been a real effort and success in partnership between the Ministry of Health [and Sanitation], the UK Government, eHA, and other partners on the ground. eHA will continue to be a willing and able partner with the Ministry to improve health outcomes in Sierra Leone” - Dayo Spencer-Walters, eHA's Deputy Country Director, Sierra Leone.

The event concluded with a ceremonious ribbon cutting performed by the British High Commissioner and the MoHS’s Deputy Minister of Health, followed by a tour of the new call center space in the PHNEOC facility.

The British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone and the Deputy Minister of Health from the MoHS complete the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Hawa Kombian, eHA

The British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone and the Deputy Minister of Health from the MoHS complete the official ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo: Hawa Kombian, eHA

At the height of the EVD crisis, the 117 received an average of 6,000 alerts of suspicious deaths and sickness per month. Over 300 dispatchers and operators were trained to utilize the eHA software solution and provide weekly updates to the MoHS and partners. This information was invaluable in the management of the outbreak, as it informed near real-time response efforts. With continued funding from UK Aid’s Resilient Zero program, the 117 call center currently receives around 2,000 alerts per month to its decentralized data managers who are deployed across all 13 districts in Sierra Leone. The 117 is a key element in strengthening the public health surveillance system, including tracking maternal deaths, child deaths, and suspicious infectious disease cases.

With a desire to maintain a strong disease surveillance system that can prevent and respond to public health threats, the MoHS will exercise renewed leadership over the technical and operational aspects of the 117. In light of this, the CDC Foundation has committed to short-term funding support for the project.

The public is encouraged to continue to place calls and send public health alerts to the 117 in order to report all deaths and suspicious illnesses in their respective communities. Social mobilization activities will continue in national efforts to enhance disease prevention, management, and the overall health sector development in Sierra Leone. eHA remains committed to achieving its mission by improving preparedness for potential public health emergencies across underserved communities in West Africa. To find out more about the work that eHA does, kindly subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.