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mHero Updates Health Workers on Ebola in Real Time

Sep 9, 2014

IntraHealth International and UNICEF are joining forces to help Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare communicate with health workers in real time as the country fights to contain the Ebola outbreak. We are combining two existing technologies—IntraHealth’s iHRIS software and UNICEF’s mobile phone SMS platform—into a powerful communication tool called mHero (Mobile Health Worker Electronic Response and Outreach).

mHero will allow the ministry to instantly send critical information to health workers’ mobile phones during the outbreak and in the future. The tool allows for:

  • Broadcast messaging
  • Reporting emerging cases
  • Sharing reference and training materials
  • Testing and improving the knowledge of health workers
  • Better coordination among the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and far-flung health facilities

Since March, the Ebola virus has infected more than 3,600 people and killed over 1,800 in West Africa, including more than 120 health workers. This outbreak is the largest ever recorded. The World Health Organization predicts more than 20,000 cases will emerge before the outbreak is over.

In Liberia, there have been more than 2,000 suspected cases, and 78 health workers have died.

Health workers on the front lines are struggling with a lack of supplies and training, in addition to fear and stress. Some nurses in Liberia are on strike demanding personal protective equipment and higher salaries due to the risk.

Getting information quickly into the hands of the health workers who must diagnose and treat clients who have Ebola-like symptoms can save lives and protect health workers. Regular updates on the latest developments issued directly from the Ministry of Health can also reassure wary health workers who may feel isolated from the coordinated response.

Mobile Numbers Are Key to Reaching Health Workers Fast

One tool Liberia did not have at the outset of the Ebola crisis was a method for reaching its more than 8,000 public service health workers with late-breaking information. But thanks to the way one of its national health information systems was designed, that’s about to change, and quickly.

In 2013, Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare began implementing iHRIS (pronounced “iris”), IntraHealth’s free, open source health workforce information system. iHRIS helps countries track and manage data on their health workers. Nineteen countries are currently using the system.

As of today, the ministry in Liberia has added records for 3,000 health workers to the system, has collected paper records for data entry for an additional 5,000, and is entering records at a rate of 450 per week. Ninety percent of these records include health workers’ mobile phone numbers.

Because iHRIS conforms to the international Care Services Discovery (CSD) and other interoperability standards and is open source, it can quickly be integrated with UNICEF’s SMS platform. During a code-a-thon last week, developers and public health officials from IntraHealth, UNICEF, and ThoughtWorks laid the groundwork for connecting data from iHRIS to UNICEF’s platform to create the mHero application.

mHero is engineered using OpenHIE interoperability technologies.  Using open architecture, standards, and approaches means that mHero can access health worker data from any CSD-compliant data source, such as a community health worker registry, and offers a consistent source of health worker information to other mobile platforms that work with OpenHIE. 

“I’ve spent a good part of my career advocating for the power of interoperable, open source health information systems,” says Dykki Settle, director of health workforce informatics at IntraHealth. “It’s easy for policymakers to postpone investments in their health sector information systems and focus on more tangible health sector initiatives. The Ebola outbreak is certainly not the type of proving ground I ever wanted for the power of good data and strong information systems, but I am grateful Liberia made the initial investment and hopeful that mHero will not only make it easier for health officials to get the right information to the right people to help control this outbreak, but will also support more resilient health systems once the outbreak is over.”

Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare implemented iHRIS with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Liberia Rebuilding Basic Health Services Project, led by JSI. IntraHealth’s iHRIS software was developed under the Capacity Project and continues to be supported through the CapacityPlus project, which is led by IntraHealth and supported by USAID

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