Mobile phones to help Ebola vaccine trials

Ebola Patients_Samuel Aranda_Panos 1
Copyright: Samuel Aranda/Panos

Speed read

  • MOTECH’s main role will be to ensure patient compliance with vaccine regimes
  • It can also educate patients and health workers, and collect data on vaccine use
  • The system will support a wider European research programme in West Africa

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An upcoming EU-funded research project will use mobile phones to monitor trials of Ebola vaccines.
US-based non-profit organisation the Grameen Foundation aims to start deploying its Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) communication system in the second quarter of the year during upcoming clinical trials in West Africa.
The project is part of a €215 million (around US$242 million) research programme on Ebola run by the Innovative Medicines Initiative, a public-private health partnership between the European Union and Europe’s pharmaceutical industry.
MOTECH can send patients text or voice message alerts about treatments. It can also collect data for researchers on vaccine efficiency and deployment. The partners hope the software will help contain Ebola, which has killed nearly 9,000 people in West Africa.

“We will continue to measure the effectiveness of this deployment in real-time and make adjustments as needed to enhance its impact.”

Alex Counts, Grameen Foundation

“For this project, that could include sending SMS reminders to patients about vaccine boosters, as well as educational messages via voice messages to dispel beliefs that discourage vaccinations,” says Alex Counts, the CEO of the Grameen Foundation. “We could also create mobile-phone-based tools to improve the skills of local healthcare workers.”
The Innovative Medicine Initiative’s programme will initially cover around 400,000 people living in areas with high risk of Ebola infection. The foundation says that using MOTECH could yield important results about the acceptability of vaccines to patients and the feasibility of data collection to lay the groundwork for other clinical trials.
MOTECH’s most important contribution will be ensuring that patients comply with vaccine regimes, the foundation adds. “Throughout the project, we will continue to measure the effectiveness of this deployment in real-time and make adjustments as needed to enhance its impact,” Counts tells SciDev.Net.
The MOTECH system has been deployed in ten countries around the world, including Bangladesh, where it was used to detect and diagnose malaria patients in remote mountain areas. Health workers used mobile phones to report suspected infections and perform remote diagnoses.
Wasif Ali Khan, a researcher involved in the Bangladeshi roll-out of MOTECH, says the technology is useful for dispelling myths around diseases — a problem that undermines Ebola containment — thus leading to earlier and better treatment.
He adds that the use of MOTECH in Bangladesh lessened people’s reliance on local medicine men and informal drug vendors, therefore reducing the risk of inappropriate treatment.