Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Doctors and nurses will now be able to report infectious diseases on their phones‚ thanks to a new app.

The new, notifiable disease surveillance system includes a mobile app and a web platform that will allow doctors and nurses to report any diseases that may be prone to becoming outbreaks to the Department of Health.

The system‚ developed by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)‚ comes after a listeriosis outbreak killed at least 193 people.

Dr Portia Mutevedzi‚ of the NICD‚ told TimesLIVE that timely detection and notification of communicable diseases could help prevent widespread outbreaks. "Recent measles‚ typhoid and listeriosis outbreaks in SA emphasise the need for an effective [notifiable medical conditions] surveillance system."

The previous paper-based system was significantly flawed‚ according to a study published this month in the journal PLOS One. It found that only half of healthcare providers in three provinces correctly reported communicable or infectious diseases after diagnosing them.

In the study‚ headed by Dr Frew Gerald Benson of the Gauteng health department‚ the authors noted that a mobile or online reporting system would increase compliance rates. Mutevedzi said the study, and other in-house evaluations of the current system’s poor performance, indicated the need for a streamlined and user-friendly alternative.

Benson said the new system was a step in the right direction‚ but would not immediately solve the problem. "A lot of our institutions do not have cellphone access yet‚ [and] a lot of institutions do not have access to the internet and so forth yet‚ so it will be delayed by that, in my own belief."

The app is currently available for download and will be fully rolled out within months.

Under international health regulations‚ every country is required to have an efficient surveillance system to report infectious diseases such as tuberculosis‚ listeriosis‚ measles and malaria‚ according to Mutevedzi. Despite the requirements‚ Benson said SA was not alone in its problems with low notification rates.

"A lot of countries‚ both high-income countries and low-income ones‚ do have a problem with compliance that’s not as high as one would expect it to be‚" Benson said. "So this is an issue that countries are constantly looking at."

More than 900 healthcare providers in KwaZulu-Natal‚ Gauteng and Limpopo were surveyed in 2015 about their diagnoses of diseases that require notification over the previous year. Of the 58% who said they had diagnosed a communicable disease‚ nearly all said they had reported the disease. However‚ the study found that just 51% had reported it correctly.

The researchers — Benson‚ Jonathan Levin and Laetitia Charmaine Rispel — said the rate of reporting indicated higher compliance rates could be achieved with a more streamlined system.

The researchers also found paediatricians were less likely to correctly report communicable diseases. Benson said this result was surprising‚ as a high proportion of communicable diseases affect children. The NICD said earlier this month that of the 193 people known to have died in the listeriosis outbreak‚ 28 were babies younger than 28 days and 10 were between the ages of one and 14 years.

Benson said early notification of communicable diseases is key in preventing outbreaks. "If you are able to pick up an outbreak earlier‚ you can find the source at an early stage‚ and therefore prevent the outbreak from spreading."

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