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Can data mining in Nigeria and mobile phones help tackle malaria?

Malaria kills 400,000 children a year.

By next year, mobile phone subscriptions will top 1 billion.

Those phones, surely, offer the opportunity for communicating, for data and for creating networks of real value – any self-respecting geek would tell you that the odds must be in their favour. And there’s no more self-respecting geeks than – the philanthropic arm of the search people, the ones who really commit to ‘do no evil’. Last month, they announced they are giving $600,000 to Malaria No More (from a $15million tech/philanthropy fund) to launch a data mining project in Nigeria.

The new project involves a partnership with Sproxil, a start-up which is battling the counterfeit drugs market by placing unique codes on authentic medicines. The patient can text the code to get verification that the drugs are authentic. Sproxil has, so far, verified 13.4 million drugs – but that’s relatively small change in the battle against malaria. The text exchange can not only verify the drugs, but it can also map the disease, and malaria has always been a very difficult disease to track.

There are complications – taking the drug doesnt mean you have the disease – there’s mis-diagnosis and there’s also the tendency to take anti-malarials when the patient has a fever, ‘just in case’, and no formal diagnosis ever takes place.

So, Malaria No More has brought in the data miners – Palantir – and the disease specialists from Harvard and Bill Clinton’s Health Access Initiative, and they can begin to work on whether drug verification is an effective proxy for incidences of the disease – as well as work out where the disease is being treated by counterfeit drugs and ineffective treatments.

Either way, the creation of a bank of data which maps the incidence and treatment of a killer disease, and uses locally appropriate tech to do so, could offer some real breakthroughs. It can be a big weapon in the fight against disease in Nigeria – and beyond.


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