Lessons From the Implementation of Mo-Buzz, a Mobile Pandemic Surveillance System for Dengue

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2017 Oct 2;3(4):e65. doi: 10.2196/publichealth.7376.


Background: Approximately 128 countries and 3.9 billion people are at risk of dengue infection. Incidence of dengue has increased over the past decades, becoming a growing public health concern for countries with populations that are increasingly susceptible to this vector-borne disease, such as Sri Lanka. Almost 55,150 dengue cases were reported in Sri Lanka in 2016, with more than 30.40% of cases (n=16,767) originating from Colombo, which struggles with an outdated manual paper-based dengue outbreak management system. Community education and outreach about dengue are also executed using paper-based media channels such as pamphlets and brochures. Yet, Sri Lanka is one of the countries with the most affordable rates of mobile services in the world, with penetration rates higher than most developing countries.

Objectives: To combat the issues of an exhausted dengue management system and to make use of new technology, in 2015, a mobile participatory system for dengue surveillance called Mo-Buzz was developed and launched in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This paper describes the system's components and uptake, along with other similar disease surveillance systems.

Methods: We developed Mo-Buzz and tested its feasibility for dengue. Two versions of the app were developed. The first was for use by public health inspectors (PHIs) to digitize form filling and recording of site visit information, and track dengue outbreaks on a real-time dengue hotspot map using the global positioning system technology. The system also provides updated dengue infographics and educational materials for the PHIs to educate the general public. The second version of Mo-Buzz was created for use by the general public. This system uses dynamic mapping to help educate and inform the general public about potential outbreak regions and allow them to report dengue symptoms and post pictures of potential dengue mosquito-breeding sites, which are automatically sent to the health authorities. Targeted alerts can be sent to users depending on their geographical location.

Results: We assessed the usage and the usability of the app and its impact on overall dengue transmission in Colombo. Initial uptake of Mo-Buzz for PHIs was low; however, after more training and incentivizing of usage, the uptake of the app in PHIs increased from less than 10% (n=3) to 76% (n=38). The general public user evaluation feedback was fruitful in providing improvements to the app, and at present, a number of solutions are being reviewed as viable options to boost user uptake.

Conclusions: From our Mo-Buzz study, we have learned that initial acceptance of such systems can be slow but eventually positive. Mobile and social media interventions, such as Mo-Buzz, are poised to play a greater role in shaping risk perceptions and managing seasonal and sporadic outbreaks of infectious diseases in Asia and around the world.

Keywords: dengue; epidemiology; health communication; pandemics; participatory epidemiology; participatory surveillance; telemedicine.