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Anoto Provides Technology that Plays an important role in disease control

“The pen appeared to be an almost revolutionary way to overcome a big problem with gathering data from the field” According to Fred Musisi, FAO’s Regional Emergency Livestock Officer


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a United Nations organization that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. FAO also helps developing countries and countries in transition to modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fishery practices and to ensure good nutrition for all. Since the founding in 1945, FAO has focused special attention on developing rural areas.  More recently the FAO discovered that utilizing Anoto Digital Pen and Paper technology could have positive effects in gathering immediate data from the field that could be used in part to reduce the spreading of disease.


Replacing frustration with success

“Too little, too late” has long been the saying that rings truce as the frustrating effect of the United Nations’ drought and infectious disease programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. But all that is history now. Due to a new technical application, information is transmitted in real-time, which means that the UN can actually prevent outbreaks of diseases and the dramatic effects of sudden droughts or floods. This is of key importance, as severe drought since 2000 has lead to limited grazing and water points.  Behind the successful turn of events, lies the South African IT-company Data World.


Data World (Pty) Ltd, one of South Africa’s leading emerging Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies that is based in Durban, South Africa with offices in New Delhi, India, developed a unique application based on Anoto Group’s Digital Pen and Paper solution (DP&P).  “We are thrilled to see that our solutions have really improved conditions in the region.  It is really fantastic“, says Willy Govender, CEO of Data World.  Previously, local veterinary assistants and staff at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) gathered hand-written information through field missions. Since the majority of these missions take place in remote countries with weak tele-communication networks, or none at all, most information was stored for weeks or months before it reached District Veterinary Offices and/or FAO analysts in Rome, Italy. The result was frustration at all levels, since by the time FAO headquarters had made their analyses, outbreaks of animal diseases had already swiped out livestock. This is particularly devastating, as a big part of the rural population in Africa depends on livestock for sustenance and the average annual consumption of meat and milk is expected to more than double over the next 10 to 15 years. 


A chronic shortage of resources, land disputes and a crippling HIV/AIDS epidemic has lead to a reduced capacity for communities to cope with the outbreak of transboundary animal diseases (TADs), for example  Footland- Mouth Disease (a highly contagious viral infection that affects for example goats, pigs and sheep). TADs are the most important factor impeding market access for livestock and livestock products.  ”The pen appeared to be an almost revolutionary way to overcome a big problem with gathering data from the field and making timely decisions in case quarantine needed to be imposed. If there is a case of rabies or an outbreak of a deadly disease, a field worker can send the detailed surveillance data immediately only using a mobile. Worst case, if there is no mobile network nearby, the field worker has to move to a location with network or must find the nearest Internet connection. But no longer do they have to drive hours back


Fast information transfer despite electricity constraints

Today, DP&P is being employed by regional and national authorities in Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In short, the application means that field agents register data with Anoto’s Digital Pen into a specialized form, created by Data World. Then, the information is saved in the pen’s memory, awaiting transmission using GPRS or Internet. Next, the data is processed and sent by e-mail to the relevant actors (District Veterinary Office, FAO headquarters), which can return instructions to field staff on what steps to take.  PDAs were considered as an alternative information tool at first, but the idea was discarded for a number of reasons: the need for batteries, the length of the questionnaires and a legal requirement of signatures on the forms.  With the help of DP&P, information transfer is accelerated and all the users and offices can simultaneously receive secure and controlled access to the information collected.

The solution has also improved the information management capacity, since the data collection methods now can be standardized throughout the region.  FAO are now thinking of using Data World’s application as standard procedure in its field missions in Asia and Latin America as well. They are also pondering over new areas of application, for example as a tool for combat against HIV/AIDS.


Data World, in turn, is aiming to create a proactive epidemio-surveillance network, where data can be produced to assess the risks and impact of TADs. DP&P can be a helpful tool in this project.  “The ambition is to create a functioning early warning system. This requires a swift and reliable application that can work without access to electricity for several days “, says Willy Govender, CEO of Data World.

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