Digital pens help Kenya tame livestock diseases

 A man tends a Friesian cow. Digital pens technology helps veterinary officers tackle diseases. FILE
A man tends a Friesian cow. Digital pens technology helps veterinary officers tackle diseases. FILE 

Introduced in 2009, the digital pen technology continues to help veterinary officers enhance disease surveillance in arid and semi-arid areas in Kenya.

Forty nine digital pens were distributed to 29 districts across the country in a pilot project carried out jointly by the government in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) including Garissa, Tana River, Lamu, Mandera and Malindi.

Over the last two years, the government has increased access to the digital pen technology for veterinary officers to an additional 50 districts.

Speaking to the Business Daily, Dr Samuel Kahariri said that the technology has transformed the way disease surveillance was being done.

“We used to do surveillance and disease reporting the conventional way where reports would be written in triplicate, a copy would remain with the official on the ground another with the regional officer and the final one sent to Nairobi which would take about three weeks,” he said.

The pen which is manufactured by a South African company has a camera, processor, memory and bluetooth which connects it to a Nokia N72.

While doing his disease surveillance, a vet would inspect the sickly animal and when writing the report on the digital paper he presses the start button and the infrared camera begins to record all that is being written.

On pressing the send button, the captured report is initially sent to the Nokia phone via Bluetooth before being relayed to a common diseases surveillance reporting server in than 10 seconds.

This in turn helps the veterinary head office in Nairobi map out endemic areas and prepare for any potential disease outbreaks especially for those which can be passed onto humans.

Some of the diseases that the technology has helped to reduce include anthrax, foot and mouth, Rift Valley Fever and rabies.

The pen’s memory can store up to 40 such reports.

“The use of this digital pen technology has helped in emergency preparedness for disease outbreaks helping to reduce the loss of livestock especially among pastoralists and we want to ensure that all the 47 counties are connected to ensure even faster reporting,” he said.

In areas where the digital pen is not used, veterinary officers are able to feed the information of sickly animals through a mobile application that also relays the surveillance information in a matter of minutes.