Dimagi gets USAID funding to bring Ebola tracking apps to West Africa

Health workers in Guinea are trained to use Dimagi's CommCare tool. (Photo: Dimagi)
Health workers in Guinea are trained to use Dimagi's CommCare tool. (Photo: Dimagi)

A Cambridge firm is one of 12 groups that will receive a portion of $6 million from the US Agency for International Development for creating a tech-based aid to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Dimagi’s strength is mobile health communication and its core product is called CommCare. The platform supplies health workers who aren’t app developers a set of simple building blocks that they can tailor to their needs, helping them to manage patient records, set up databases and data-entry systems, or communicate with their co-workers in the field, for example. 

In partnership with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the United Nations Population Fund, Dimagi has provided CommCare to health care workers in Guinea, where they built an Android app to assist them in following the fever by logging records of people who came in contact with a patient, a process known as “contact tracing.”

The team trained 146 workers in Conakry, Coyah, and Dubreka prefectures to use an app on Android phones to store records. Since November, they’ve tracked almost 3,500 individuals who may have been at risk for Ebola.

Jonathan Jackson, Dimagi’s chief executive, said the funding will be used to find other partners in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Also, the funding could be used to develop other phone applications for uses other than contact tracing.

The Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge is a partnership of the USAID and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the US Department of Defense, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After a call for proposals in October last year, the program received 1,500 applications.

“Through the Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge, we will continue to source, test, and scale groundbreaking innovations that will not only save lives in the months to come, but lay the foundation for more resilient and vibrant communities across West Africa,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said in a statement.

Dimagi was among the dozen projects selected to received funding last week. Among the nominees were a wearable Bluetooth sensor that monitors vital signs, a novel design for a tent that stays ventilated and cool, and a new design for a hazmat suit that is easier to put on and take off.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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