Tagging Babies, Tracking Disease

| May-June 2010

  • Babies track disease

    image courtesy of IRD / www.irdresearch.org

  • Babies track disease

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.