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Safaricom Unveils Mobile Disease Surveillance System

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Kenyan telecoms operator Safaricom has partnered with the country's Ministry of Health and Korea Telecom (KT) to launch a disease surveillance and awareness project to alert subscribers about infectious disease outbreaks.

The service, called Safiri Smart, is part of KT's Global Epidemic Prevention Project and is aimed at helping governments to prevent the transmission of infectious diseases such as Ebola and Yellow Fever and enhancing their epidemic preparedness and control.

"This solution will see Safaricom subscribers who opt in to the service receive important information about any epidemics that have broken out at their travel destination, including prevention, measures and symptoms," Stephen Chege, chief corporate affairs officer at Safaricom, said at the launch event in Nairobi.

"We are a technology company and KT is a technology company, [together] we want to innovate around how we can use technology to solve problems. This is what the collaboration is all about, ensuring that even users who do not have smartphones, who can only access USSD [Unstructured Supplementary Service Data], are able to get a service that can change their lives," Chege said.

Safaricom subscribers can access Safiri Smart for free through USSD technology on their mobile phones. Registered customers will get SMS messages with relevant information, in either English or Swahili, to alert them of any disease outbreaks as soon as they land in an affected country.

Myung-gon Chung from Korea Telcom,  Korean  Ambassador to Kenya Choi Yeonghan and Safaricom executive Steve Chege at the Safiri Smart launch in Nairobi, Kenya.
Myung-gon Chung from Korea Telcom, Korean Ambassador to Kenya Choi Yeonghan and Safaricom executive Steve Chege at the Safiri Smart launch in Nairobi, Kenya.

"We have over 1.4 million regular travelers in our country, that travel mostly around East Africa, to countries which may be experiencing an outbreak of one of the diseases that we want to monitor. So all of these customers for free can get a notification about where to travel, what to look out for and how to ensure that they remain safe," Chege explained.

The solution has already been rolled out in Ghana, as well as Laos in Asia, as a mobile application, enabling citizens of those countries to stay informed while visiting epidemic-prone areas and providing reports to health officials when an epidemic erupts.

"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. We are therefore pleased with this partnership that will increase disease surveillance in Kenya," said Sicily Kariuki, Cabinet Secretary for Kenya's Ministry of Health.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is currently battling an Ebola outbreak with the World Health Organization reporting nine new confirmed cases between November 27 and December 3 in the North Kivu and Ituri provinces. The DRC is facing the world's second-largest Ebola epidemic on record, with over 3,300 cases reported and more than 2,200 deaths since the outbreak was declared in August 2018.

Myung-gon Chung, VP of the sustainability management department at Korea Telecom, said 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.

"We are dedicated to championing these efforts as part of our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals," he added.

Executives from Safaricom and Korea Telecom at the Safiri Smart launch in Nairobi, Kenya.
Executives from Safaricom and Korea Telecom at the Safiri Smart launch in Nairobi, Kenya.

— The Staff, Connecting Africa

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