Econet mulls health test kit for rural folk

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HARARE – Econet Wireless, a diversified telecommunications group, is mulling introducing a health test kit for rural folk that will use cellphones. 

Dubbed the Econet Disease Surveillance Network (EDSN), it is designed to help villagers achieve a stable health condition at no cost.

Strive Masiyiwa, the executive chairperson and founder of the Econet Wireless Group revealed the plan on his Facebook page.

Masiyiwa said Econet Wireless research and development team was working with partners in America to develop a test kit for malaria, HIV, dengue, influenza and Hepatitis B using mobile phones.

“A test kit which can be installed at any rural clinic or hospital will use a blood sample through a simple finger prick is taken and placed on a cartridge containing a strip of absorbent paper impregnated with antibodies,” Masiyiwa said.

“If the person has an infection, the paper changes colour.”

The Econet Wireless founder said the absorbent paper will then be photographed using a simple cellphone camera, supplied as part of the kit.

“The picture of the sample is beamed over our network to a special computer which processes it and provides a diagnosis which is sent back to the remote clinic, in a matter of seconds, by SMS. The computer also collates the data to enable public health officials to know the spread of diseases, in the country.”

Masiyiwa said so far, they had the capacity to test for five diseases which are malaria, HIV, dengue, influenza and hepatitis B.

“The test kit not only enables thousands of people to be tested and treated, but it also allows governments to be able to monitor the movement real time of any of these diseases, enabling them to react quickly to major outbreaks,” Masiyiwa said.

He said they were currently testing this system and hope to eventually get such systems installed in every African country.

“Our team is led by Dr Precious Lunga, a medical specialist, who joined our team to lead our health initiatives,” Masiyiwa said. “My vision, however, is that within 10 years, people will be testing themselves for diseases, using their cell phones.”

Zimbabwe’s health sector, once among the best in sub-Saharan Africa, collapsed during the nation’s 2008 economic crisis, when hyperinflation of 231 million percent made public hospitals to temporarily close down as they ran out of medicines, while skilled health workers left the country in droves to pursue better opportunities elsewhere.

The health system has been struggling to recover ever since, causing maternal mortality to shoot up to 790 deaths per 100 000 live births in 2012, from 390 deaths in 1990.

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