September 23, 2013
How Smartphones Became Vital Tools Against Dengue In Pakistan
Two years ago, an estimated 20,000 people in and around the city of Lahore contracted the deadly tropical disease. This year, the region has recorded just a few dozen cases of dengue fever, which usually involves a high fever, horrible headache, and severe bone and joint pain. NPR reports.
What triggered the sharp decline in dengue cases? Fortuitous weather patterns may have helped to keep the mosquito population low. But many leaders also credit a mobile phone app — and the public health campaign that uses it.
"We pull up the trash, put it in the basket, tie up the bag and take it away," says sanitation worker Tanvir Channa. He says that he doesn't often think about his role in combating a deadly epidemic. "Whatever I do, it's just to provide for my kids," the thin 30-year-old says.
To make sure workers like Channa don't skip out on their tasks and allow the dengue mosquitoes to breed, they're followed by an investigator who uses a smartphone to their progress. In this case, it's a tall man in plaid shirt named Mohammad Saleem Taqi.
"I open this application, called Clean Lahore, to enter a field activity," he says. "I take pictures before and after the work is done, enable location services to map this spot, and then send it on to my supervisors."
"Of course it seemed strange at first," Channa says, of having his picture taken on the job. But now he believes the monitoring campaign is to his benefit because the photos show supervisors that he's on the job and can't be marked absent.
Across town from the sewer, men with the fishery department tip a bucket of water into a small neighborhood pond. Dozens of tiny tilapia fish swim into the pond. These fish have a taste for mosquito larvae and naturally curb the mosquito population.
As the two men work, an inspector snaps a photo of them with the Clean Lahore app.
The app is the brainchild of Umar Saif, a Cambridge-educated computer scientist, who now manages part of the anti-dengue campaign.
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