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Reference Project Congo

Institute of Tropical Medicine - Sponsored by Bill Gates Foundation

Project sleeping sickness surveillance in Congo

In March 2013 I contacted Comm-Co because I needed a solution for a project in Congo in which we wanted to use PDAs for data collection for sleeping sickness surveillance in remote districts. Field workers go from house to house, register all inhabitants and perform a screening test. Whenever the screening test is positive the field workers take a blood sample on a barcoded filter paper; all this is done in the field. Once every two weeks the field worker returns to the district capital where the filter paper samples are handed over to a laboratory for further tests.
We needed to record data on all persons screened and where they live, for which we wanted to use a PDA. Apart from the database function, we also needed a GPS function that works even in areas that are not covered by the mobile phone antenna’s, and a barcode scanner. We also needed a solution to charge the PDAs since most of the areas in which sleeping sickness is prevalent are far away from the electricity grid. Moreover the PDAs had to be resistant against dust, moisture and some rough handling. Preferably we wanted a Windows tablet that would allow us to use standard MS Office software.
Initially we tried out the AGX TPC10 tablet in combination with a 2300 mA solar charger. Comm-Co developed an app in MS Access that allowed for data entry but also to automatically register the geographic coordinates for each record and to scan a barcode. The tablet and the app worked fine but we did have problems in keeping the tablet charged, the capacity of the solar charger was insufficient. We then opted for a Ruggear RG970 smartphone. This is an android phone for which a new app had to be developed. The app was again developed by Comm-Co and works very well. The battery life of the RG970 is long and starting up from sleeping mode is a quick process, thus we only need to recharge every second day.
For recharging we tried out different solutions. The PDAs can be charged from a 12-volt battery. Since our field workers move around on motorcycles, our first idea was to use the motorcycle battery. Unfortunately in Congo almost all motorcycles have 6 volt batteries. We tried using the 6 volt motorcycle battery in combination with a 6-12 volt transformer but the current required was too high. We then opted for a foldable 40 Watt solar panel in combination with a 7Ah maintenance free battery, this worked out very well and can still be carried around on the back of a motorcycle. The capacity of the battery is enough to fully charge the PDA and even to run a 12-volt centrifuge and a 7 Watt LED light used during the evenings. Eventually we did identify a type of motorcycle available in the local market that does have a 12 volt battery, this we now use as a back-up if ever there would be problems with the other battery.
The pictures below show a bit of the daily routine of our field workers:

Registering data in the PDA

Charging the battery with a solar panel.

A field worker with his PDA and motorcycle.

Preparing paper filter samples in the evening.

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