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Digital health: how technology is used to fight disease

Sightsavers is pioneering new ways to use technology as part of programmes to tackle avoidable blindness.

A close-up of a mobile phone being used by a health worker to record data.

Digital tools are helping Sightsavers’ teams to collect and use quality data to increase the efficiency of our programmes, improve patient care and reduce costs.

Here you can learn more about our use of technology in programmes around the world, and how this approach is helping to save sight.

A spoon is used to place two tablets into a child's hand.

Real-time monitoring of mass NTD treatment distribution

Many of our neglected tropical disease programmes use mass drug administration (MDA), in which entire populations are treated with medication. These MDAs take place within local communities, making it historically difficult to monitor treatment and distribution. Our MDA real-time reporting platform offers much greater visibility: if an area is behind target, for example, we can investigate any issues and attempt to solve them as soon as possible, while the campaign is still under way. This has significantly improved the quality and timeliness of our data, as well as our ability to supervise the activities, and means far fewer drugs are wasted.

An eye health worker using a mobile phone to record data, with patients in the background.

Patient tracking applications

Our work began with the TT Tracker, built to help surgeons, assistants and supervisors to collect and analyse information about trachomatous trichiasis (TT) surgery and performance, and to determine when and where follow-up appointments are needed. Data is collected using smartphones, with supervisors accessing reports online and via email. Now used in multiple countries, this patient tracking app has been adapted to be used in both paediatric cataract programmes (CataTrack) and hydrocele programmes (Hydrocele Tracker).

An eye health worker holds a mobile phone to record data, as a boy in the background looks on.

Survey data collection

Sightsavers has adopted one centralised system to manage mobile survey data collection and data visualisation across our programmes. This cross-cutting approach includes surveys undertaken in our eye health, NTD and research activities – from rapid assessment of avoidable blindness surveys to treatment coverage evaluation surveys to research in political participation and more, administering surveys digitally increases efficiency and reduces errors.

Two vision technicians from the India Truckers Eye Health Programme look at a handheld tablet.

India’s National Truckers Eye Health Programme

Poor eyesight could be putting almost half of India’s truck drivers at risk, but their transient lifestyle, lack of free time and limited income mean having their eyes checked is a challenge. So Sightsavers created a system that takes eye care services directly to them. All the camps are in areas where drivers stop as part of their usual route. Drivers’ details are digitally uploaded using tablets and they are given an ID card featuring a QR code, which they can take to any site along their route and pick up their treatment where they left off.

An eye health worker in Ethiopia examines a child's eyes.

Global Trachoma Mapping Project

The Global Trachoma Mapping Project (GTMP) launched in December 2012. Partnering with 53 organisations, Sightsavers led a coalition to collect and transmit data on 2.6 million people in 29 countries using smartphones. The project came to an end in early 2016.

An eye care worker holding a notepad with a phone resting on top.

Tropical Data

Created with partners including the World Health Organization, Tropical Data is a mobile-based data-collection initiative that uses the same approach and technology as the Global Trachoma Mapping Project. Thanks to the two projects, on average one person has been examined for trachoma every 26 seconds since 2012. Tropical Data helps countries carry out surveys as they work towards eliminating trachoma.

A close-up of flies in a test tube.

Onchocerciasis Elimination Mapping (OEM) project

Using the many lessons learned from GTMP and Tropical Data, we piloted standardised digital data collection tools for river blindness in collaboration with partners and ministries of health in Ghana and Nigeria. Following the successful pilots in Ghana and Nigeria, the results were presented to WHO by each country, and the methodology is being scaled up for use in Mozambique.

Two patients with mobility impairments undergo screening for eye health conditions

Inclusive eye health

We define inclusive eye health as services that are sustainable, accessible and planned with gender and disability considerations in mind. In 2018 we began collecting patient data for eye health programmes in Mozambique, Pakistan and Bangladesh using mobile devices. Each patient surveyed will have an eye health assessment, and their disability status determined using the Washington Group short set of questions. This will be used as comparative data to measure the success of the project.

A school student washes her hands using water from a large barrel.

Using WASH data to combat NTDs

Good water, sanitation and hygiene are key to preventing the spread of certain NTDs. This is why joined-up working between NTD programmes and the WASH sector is crucial. Sightsavers is supporting a number of countries to merge WASH data with other information about NTDs. Data from both areas is then analysed together, turning the information into knowledge that will lead to more effective NTD and WASH programmes, and greater collaboration between key players.

A close-up of a man holding some paperwork.

Strengthening NTD data systems

It is vital to have accurate, timely data that can be accessed by everyone involved in NTD work. Sightsavers is working to improve in-country data warehouses to aggregate programmatic data. A key part of this work is training people how to manage, access and use data to inform programmatic decision-making, ensuring that NTD programmes become as effective as possible.

A landscape in rural Cameroon, showing a dirt road surrounded by tall grass with mountains in the background.

GIS and mapping

Geographic information systems (GIS) capture, analyse and present all types of geographical data. Sightsavers is now using GIS in many targeted programmes, including guiding field teams to reach hard-to-find settlements for treatment, mapping barriers faced by young people with disabilities, and predictive modelling to help ministries know the locations at most risk of non-inclusive programming.

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