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Gates Foundation funds disease surveillance data network

In the aftermath of the Ebola crisis the Gates Foundation has announced that it will be giving $75m to a network of disease surveillance sites in Africa and Asia to gather better data about childhood mortality.

The network wants to help collect better data, faster, about how, where and why children are becoming sick and dying in order to better prepare for any future potential epidemic. This data is expected to give the global heath community a clearer insight in to what the optimum intervention may be.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “The world needs better, more timely public health data not only to prepare for the next epidemic, but to save children's lives now.”

The sites will be located in areas with high childhood mortality rates in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and involve information management, laboratory infrastructure and also workforce capacity.

In recent years, there has been a surge in mobile technologies developed by companies to offer healthcare solutions to people in developing countries, which typically lack extensive healthcare infrastructures.

In one example, a team of Cambridge-based postgraduate students designed a pocket-sized fingerprint scanner to help patients in such countries get improved access to healthcare. The scanner gives health workers easy access to the medical records of patients.

The scanner wirelessly syncs with a health worker's smartphone via an app to check patient records. The system can access and modify offline health records that have already been downloaded and stored in a local database on the phone.

This means that in areas with limited mobile connectivity updates to the records will subsequently be synced with the central database, once internet connectivity is re-estabilshed.

Tristram Norman, who co-designed Simprints, told Reuters, “The Simprints technology can integrate with any phone that currently has Bluetooth and we're focusing on the Android platform because the Android platform is the largest growing mobile platform currently in the developing world.”

Health workers in remote areas often find it hard to identify patients, who may have no birth certificate or passport and whose records have previously been held on paper.

The Simprints team believes their device will also allow health workers to monitor vaccination levels more effectively and help civil registration records by enabling tracking of births and deaths.

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