A man holding a mobile phone

Corona transmission stopped with mobile phones

Thanks to technology developed by Norwegian Red Cross, the first case of COVID-19 in Somaliland was detected early.

Published 6th of April 2020

Last Thursday, a woman named Hamida* was contacted by a neighbor. A person in the village was experiencing fever, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. Hamida is a Red Crescent volunteer, and every villager knows that they can come to her for first aid and to tell her about health risks in the community. She quickly realized that this matched the symptoms of COVID-19; the first in Somaliland.

Healthcare team present within two hours

It seemed unlikely that the first corona case in Somaliland would appear in her village. But when Hamida discovered that her neighbor had recently returned from London, she became concerned.  

Within just two hours, a healthcare team was present to investigate. Since it was already late at night, the family was told to self-isolate within their home until the next morning. The team was then able to test for COVID-19, and send the test to Nairobi for analysis.

Early isolation

While waiting, Hamida followed up with the family. She offered advice on hygiene, house cleaning, and how to relate to neighbors. After a few days, the health authorities confirmed that the test was indeed positive. Hamida had discovered the first case of coronavirus in Somaliland!

Nyss is based on simple mobile technology. Volunteers can quickly report signs and symptoms of diseases with their mobile phone.

Early warning and early response is crucial to stop an outbreak before it spreads. Because she reacted immediately, she may have stopped community-level transmission in the village.

Rebecca Bushby, responsible for Nyss in Africa

Early warning can save lives

Nyss is a software platform for real-time detection, reporting, aggregation, and analysis of information on community health risks, and was developed by Norwegian Red Cross.

Volunteers report using basic mobile phones, so that data can be collected in places with poor infrastructure and limited access to health care services. These volunteers, who have extensive knowledge of their own communities, have been trained to identify and report on signs and symptoms of epidemic-prone diseases. They learn to report via SMS, and follow-up with the community. This enables the Red Cross Red Crescent to detect and notify about potential outbreaks in an early phase.

– When we know where the transmission is occurring, the right resources can be applied in the right place, at the right time. That can save lives, especially where health care facilities are far between, says Bushby.

Technical volunteerism

Nyss has been developed with the support and contributions from more than 250 tech volunteers, joining the project online and via coding events in Oslo, Dakar, and Brussels. Nyss is now used in several countries to alert and surveil health risks and potential outbreaks.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Societies in Senegal and Somaliland also support the health authorities by using Nyss to alert and surveil symptoms of COVID-19.

Read more about Nyss!

*Names have been changed to protect identities. Stigma of sick people and their families, as well as volunteers and health care personnel, makes this necessary.