How cellphones helped to dramatically reduce new cases of Dengue fever in Pakistan


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Photo: Johan Larsson/CC

“This dengue has become a calamity,” Saad Azeem said in September 2011. He wasn’t exaggerating. Azeem, a 45 year-old police officer, was “at home suffering from the fever and mourning the death of his elderly father.”
Sadly this wasn’t the case just for Azeem. Everyone was affected in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan. The fever didn’t discriminate. Dengue mosquitoes were affecting the poor and the rich, the old, and the young. Out of more than 12,000 people who were infected in Pakistan, at least 10,000 resided in Lahore.
It was a disaster.

It was also a political crisis because Lahore is a crucial city to Pakistan’s politics. Seeing no end in sight, Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, was ready to try anything.
Virtually everyone in the government was asked to fight dengue. Health officials trained doctors. Teachers instructed students in schools about preventive care and treatment. Officials launched help lines and an awareness campaign.
But the progress wasn’t satisfactory. Citizens were panicking. Sharif wanted to do more to eliminate the fever, but didn't have a way to find out where new infections were occurring.
According to Logged On, Smart Government Solutions from South Asia, a report by the World Bank, the government then came to the decision to use smartphones to monitor anti-dengue activities and track where new cases were appearing. But the dengue season was ending, and so the idea of using smartphones to identify problems and patterns of the epidemic was also put on hold.
As usual dengue season came back in 2012. But this time, anti-dengue activities were being recorded via an app. Dr. Umar Saif, the young, energetic, then-chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), was tasked by the government with developing a solution to fight dengue.
PITB developed an app to record anti-dengue activities. Everyone in dengue-tracking teams was given smartphones. They took geo-tagged pictures that were displayed live. After the data was gathered, Saif led the data analysis process to find out where the government should focus its preventive activities.
This new dashboard allowed officials including the chief minister to track the progress.  He used the dashboard in his meetings to ensure “that no vulnerable or affected areas were neglected.”
The app made a difference. In 2012, there were 258 confirmed dengue cases in Lahore—80 times fewer cases than in 2011, when there were (even according to conservative estimates) at least 21,000 dengue cases.
This is a remarkable example of a smart government solution. 
Do you know of other innovative solutions in your community to improve public services?  Share with us in the comments.

Related blog post: Five ways technology is improving public services

Join the Conversation

Joy de Beyer
April 02, 2015

Fascinating, but could you explain more how the app was used? Once the "hot spots" were detected, what was done? THank you!

May 15, 2015

Special teams with spray were sent to those areas.

Fernando Prieto
April 07, 2015

Really remarkable indeed, though I'd like to repeat the point made in the previous comment about how the app was used, seems like a really important question. Also, are you sure the decrease of dengue cases from 21,000 in 2011 to 258 in 2012 was caused by using the app?

arjun patil
October 25, 2017

The Dengue disease is caused by the mosquito. Aedes aegypti is one of the only few type of mosquitoes that spread dengue disease. Aedes mosquitoes are visually distinctive because they have noticeable black and white markings on their body and legs. Unlike most other mosquitoes, they are active and bite only during the daytime. The peak biting periods are early in the morning and in the evening before dusk. If we do a pest control then we can avoid all this diseases. Symptoms for the dengue are Severe headaches, Pain behind the eyes, Severe joint and muscle pain, Nausea, and Vomiting.

July 24, 2018

First time i see this type of controlling the fever, it is possible to control the fever . and how to use the app to control the dengue fever . they have lot of medicines are available to control the the fever but sometimes they will not use for the people. they proper medicines are available in buy online medicine in chennai.