Safaricom has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Korea Telecom to launch a new service that will alert subscribers on disease outbreaks whenever they travel abroad.
Dubbed Safiri Smart, the service which is free for all Safaricom users can be accessed by pressing *265# and then opting for the information to be provided in English or Swahili.
The service, which is already up and running, will be accessible to most mobile phone users as it is based on USSD technology, that sends alerts to one’s phone through text messages or SMS.
Subscribers will be automatically alerted by SMS through the firm’s roaming service once they cross the borders of a country with an ongoing infectious disease outbreak.
Announcing the launch in Nairobi on Friday, Safaricom Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Steve Chege said it was important for businesses to create products that work for the wellbeing of the societies in which they operate.
“We are in an era where we should go beyond our business licenses and use technology to improve the society. Businesses must take care of the communities where they work by innovating for the greater good,” said Mr Chege.
Mr Chege said around 1.4 million Kenyans regularly travel in and out of the country, with the majority visiting destinations around the East African region.
He said the service enables users who travel to foreign countries to know which outbreaks have been reported, what to do in case they experience symptoms and directs them on which health facilities and medics to contact for treatment.
In a speech read at the Friday on her behalf by CAS Dr Rashid Aman, Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the country was at risk of experiencing infectious disease outbreaks due to its central location that made it a major transit point for people from all over the globe.
Ms Kariuki said the incorporation of mobile technology in providing information on infectious disease outbreaks would be a great tool in combating their spread.
“Kenya is a major transport hub and the risk of contracting a notifiable infectious disease while crossing the borders is high. Mobile phones can be a great tool in promoting public health. We are therefore pleased with this partnership that will increase the scale of disease surveillance in Kenya,” said Ms Kariuki.
Korean Ambassador Choi Yeonghan said the project was the service is part of Korea Telecom’s Global Epidemic Prevention Project aimed at helping the health ministry prevent the entry and transmission of infectious diseases such as Ebola in the country.
Mr Yeonghan hailed the projects as another sign of cordial relations between the two nations dating back to 1964, adding that it would be a welcome boost to Kenya’s effort to achieve universal health coverage.
“If the government can properly utilise all the information gathered for the project, it will be a good source for Kenyans to understand what is happening in the field of epidemic diseases,” said Mr Yeonghan.
Currently, the DRC is experiencing an Ebola outbreak, which has affected over 3000 people, of which about two thirds have died. In the neighbouring Uganda, four cases have so far been reported.
“New disease threats can originate in far-off places, increase quickly and have global impact in matter of days. Examples are the Zika virus in Brazil and the plague outbreak in Madagascar,” he said.
Dr Aman said the project, which is in the pilot phase is currently sponsored by the Korean Government and Safaricom, but added that the ministry would eventually take over after its two and a half year period elapsed.
Head of Disease Surveillance at the ministry Dr Daniel Langat said the service is currently available to Safaricom subscribers but said the department was in talks with other arms of government including the ICT ministry to ensure that all Kenyans can eventuall, use it.
“We are working on issue around the Data Protection Act to ensure that all Kenyans can one day access it because disease surveillance is not selective,” said Dr Langat.
He said the system was designed to operate across the networks, and said the other telco operators including Airtel would be roped in to provide the service to their clients.
Dr Langat added that plans were underway to expand the service to provide local travellers with alerts when heading into outbreak zones within the country.