The threat of a global pandemic is rising again.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is grappling with the world’s second-largest Ebola epidemic on record, with more than 3100 confirmed infections and about 2100 lives lost according to figures by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Such infectious diseases are becoming more common and have been setting global health agencies on edge. With a booming global population, more roads and flights connecting everyone, and greater contact between humans, this is only to be expected.
Bilateral trade and democratization of air travel to almost every corner of the globe makes it easy for a traveler to pick up a disease in one country, fly across and spread the disease to another country in a matter of hours.
But as the threat grows, so has the case for beefing up defenses against disease outbreaks. As of 2019, 158 countries had pandemic-preparedness plans. Among the sobering lessons from the Ebola crisis, was how ill-prepared the world (more so Africa) was for such a deadly disease.
Epidemics pose risks not only to our health but also to our economies. A report by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board found that the world lost nearly sixty billion dollars in productivity costs – from the economic and social impact of the 2014- 2016 West Africa Ebola crisis.
The Ebola outbreak in Congo has also left a lasting impression, and scientists and public-health officials now tend to see any putative disease threat through its lens.
In contrast, governments globally are spending about $2 trillion dollars annually on military defense. Investing in health security is a similar form of insurance, but one with better returns.
Traditional quarantine is increasingly being replaced by better intelligence and proactive measures. Artificial Intelligence (AI) models can now predict where a new disease might emerge and how it might spread.
Prevention is always better than cure and even as governments and companies continue to expand the availability of vaccines, innovative technological solutions could also go a long way in containing the spread of deadly pathogens.
Korea’s largest mobile operator, Korea Telecom (KT), Safaricom and the Ministry of health have now partnered to launch a disease surveillance and awareness project dubbed ‘Safiri Smart’ that will enhance the country’s epidemic preparedness and control.
Safaricom’s Chief Corporate affairs officer Mr. Steve Chege says that users who opt into Safriri Smart will be able to receive important information about any epidemics that have broken out at their travel destinations including prevention measures and symptoms.
Similar to an SMS notification from one of Safaricom’s roaming partners that arrives as soon you land, Safiri Smart users who travel to areas with epidemics will receive information on their mobiles as soon as they land.
The service has already been rolled out in Ghana and Laos as a mobile application. Safaricom customers can opt-in by dialing *265#.
“Global telcos have a unique opportunity to help prevent contagious diseases from spreading – by sharing crucial information with their subscribers at the right time and in the right format,” Said Myung Gon Chung, Vice President, Sustainability Management Department at Korea Telecom.
During the launch, Ministry of Health Cabinet Secretary; Sicily Kariuki said that the service would also increase disease surveillance in Kenya.
“Kenya is a major transport hub and the risk of contracting a notifiable infectious disease cross-border is high. Mobile phones can be a great tool in promoting public health” She added.