Digital Pen Technology stems livestock disease outbreaks within seconds

Livestock farmers in the country can now breathe a sigh of relief after the introduction of a digital pen technology used by veterinary officers to immediately report to the capital about any disease outbreak within ten seconds.

The innovative tool which reports about an outbreak to the capital in ten seconds is aimed at saving millions of shillings worth of livestock which are lost due to longer periods of over three weeks that manual processes take hence making it difficult to contain an outbreak in time.

After witnessing farmers lose the source of their livelihoods to deadly notable diseases that could be contained in time, stakeholders in the veterinary sector went on a mission to curb these misfortunes hence the integration of technology to their course.

Dr, Kahariri Samuel one of the brains behind the innovation noted, “Time is everything when it comes to curbing of deadly diseases like Rift valley fever or Anthrax and therefore the faster a disease is detected and reported, the lesser it may spread hence less economic losses.”

He added that initially they were relying on the manual paper and pen which not only took long to reach the capital but was also tedious as the officers at the grassroots had to make several copies and rounds of visit from rural areas to Nairobi to deliver the reports a process that took over three weeks.

The old trend has greatly been revolutionized with the Digital Pen Technology which reports about an outbreak to the capital in the shortest time span. The technology entails use of a digital pen, digital paper and an internet enabled phone. The digital paper has commands that are interlinked with the pen. It has a start and end command boxes.

When one ticks the start box then the Bluetooth in the pen is activated and the pen will note anything that will be written on the paper using the camera on it and when the end box is clicked then the information is automatically stored in the pen’s memory chip.  The veterinary officer just writes on the digital pare normally and then the details are recorded simultaneously by the camera on the pen to the memory chip.

According to Dr. Kahariri, the technology is better than smart phones and gives users ample time to note the details. “Field workers and veterinarians cannot take time punching in information on a phone, trying to find the small keys on a touch screen that might be impossible to see in the bright sunlight.

A digital pen, however, has a miniature infrared camera that records writing as the pen passes over paper sending the data wirelessly using Bluetooth technology to a cell phone and then onward to a central server.” The pen can store 40 forms on its’ memory chip. Once the information has been sent to the capital for analysis the platform also allows editing and adding more data on a similar report earlier keyed in.

“This edited version of the information is also relayed immediately to the main server in the capital and the parties there can differentiate it from the main initial report as the colour codes change from red to green.” Dr. Kahariri added that this is vital to the information gathering process as more data is normally gathered gradually from the time of the first case reporting therefore enabling the researchers determine the exact case on the ground with the additional information added.

The innovative technology which has been piloting for the last 4 years in 29 districts in the country was first initiated by the United Nations agricultural agency; Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO). The focus was first directed to the regions in the country that highly depend on livestock as their main source of livelihoods mainly the North Eastern region. 

The success of the pilot project has seen the government scaling it up to cover more regions in the country and currently over 80 districts are covered although plans are underway to ensure countrywide coverage. There are over 80 sets of the digital pens allocated to various field officers on the ground.

Since the introduction the technology, Dr. Kahariri noted that they have been able to detect and contain some of the fatal animal diseases on time and therefore improving their relations with the pastoralist communities. “One of the most important aspects of a veterinarian’s work is building up a good relationship and trust with farmers and people and this has highly been achieved through our quick response to their predicaments,” explained Dr. Kahariri.

This is coupled with the ability to locate the exact location of the outbreak through GPS as the technology locates both longitude and latitude of the place. According to information from International Livestock Research Institute ILRI, the greatest burden of animal to human diseases falls on one billion poor livestock keepers globally.

A deadly dozen zoonotic disease each year kill 2.2 million people. The report also noted that animal disease is a key constraint in Africa as it is responsible for about half of the annual mortality rate with the young animals being the most affected. According to Dr. Kahariri most of these cases are normally preventable and curable diseases and if they are detected and curbed in time using such technologies like the Digital Pen, then animal productivity will double and such human deaths will be prevented.

“The use of technology will not only help increase productivity by reducing endemic animal diseases that lower productivity but also lower zoonotic disease transmissions that threaten small-scale livestock producers in poor countries as well as human health in all countries.”