Kenyan app developers have created a mobile based service called Zahanati that helps identify Malaria symptoms. Although it is still in trial stages, the telemedicine application is already receiving mixed reviews.
NAIROBI, KENYA (REUTERS) -A group of software developers in Kenya's capital Nairobi have come up with an application that they say helps early diagnosis of one of Africa's number one killer diseases -- Malaria.
The mobile based application, known as Zahanati was created by Elvis Bando, an Information Technology graduate in his early 30's along with a group of medical students.
With millions of people easily accessing medical information online, Bando says self diagnosis is sometimes counter-productive.
He says Zahanati, which is still being tested -- will be interactive, unlike most internet websites and involves data collected from local medical professionals who better understand the disease.
"The background of the app was made after the realization that most people do self diagnosis. If I am sick the first thing I do is go online and in put my symptoms. This is one of the challenges of malaria because people are doing self diagnosis," Bando said.
According to experts early detection of Malaria goes a long way in treating and curing the disease, which kills an estimated 1 million people every year.
Users of Zahanati send a list of their symptoms via text message to an interactive database that then replies with a set of questions to determine a preliminary diagnosis.
"What the app does is look at the data that you have supplied and checks back at what the doctor gave us. The back end has a lot of data for malaria. So are these symptoms co- related? It then gives you a diagnosis. I would think it's more authentic because it runs from actual prescription," said Bando.
Besides early diagnosis the application is also helping researchers map areas where malaria is prevalent. With that data, health officials can easily concentrate the distribution of preventative materials and measures across the country.
Malaria infects more than 200 million people worldwide every year and kills around 600,000 of them - primarily children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most severe forms of malaria are caused by the parasite plasmodium falciparum, which is spread by mosquitoes.
Experts say one of the most challenging features of this parasite is that is is constantly mutating.
The distribution of counterfeit drugs is also making it increasingly difficult to effectively fight the disease.
Researchers are constantly looking for new ways to tackle Malaria -- with the use of telecommunication and information technology, or telemedicine as it is commonly referred to, becoming widespread in affected countries.
Zahanati is not the first telemedicine application to be tested in Kenya. However some experts question the viability and reliability of such methods.
Dr. E.N. Kamuri is a consultant at Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital, the biggest referral facility in East and Central Africa. He warns that telemedicine should not replace face to face consultations especially in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases like Malaria, which are best detected through blood tests.
"Telemedicine cannot substitute trained personnel. We are talking about an aid to… a gadget or a system that facilitates but it is not the ultimate. For example, you cannot diagnose malaria by just saying, I am having weak joints, I am having a fever, I had travelled to Kisumu or Western, that cannot be a criteria, for diagnosing malaria," said Dr. Kamuri.
Zahanati developers advise their users that diagnosis generated from the application must be followed by consultation with a doctor.
While existing prevention measures such as mosquito nets treated with insecticide and indoor spraying are still effective, experts say tight surveillance and rapid response strategies are needed to prevent resistance.