Tagging Babies, Tracking Disease


| May-June 2010



Babies track disease

image courtesy of IRD / www.irdresearch.org

Researchers are taking advantage of tradition in Pakistan, where babies have long been adorned with beaded bracelets for protection from evil spirits. Now the bracelets, outfitted with cutting-edge technology, have morphed into a culturally acceptable tool for tracking pneumonia.

“Threaded among the black beads of the study-issued bracelets that adorn more than 4,500 babies in a low-income Karachi neighborhood is a button-size radio frequency identification (RFID) tag,” reports Johns Hopkins Public Health (Fall 2009). “The device can use radio waves to transmit real-time surveillance data via cell phones to a central computer server.”

The tracking devices are a key part of the Karachi Invasive Pneumococcal Disease Surveillance Project, which began in late 2008 and wraps up in mid-2010. The 40 clinics involved in the study monitor babies ages 6 weeks to 18 months for pneumonia and transmit data to researchers, who will use the data to persuade Pakistan’s government to add a new vaccine for the disease, which kills 13 percent of Pakistani children under the age of 5.

The low-cost technology is also revolutionizing disease surveillance studies by eliminating paper, ensuring data accuracy, and allowing researchers to troubleshoot and spot trends.