UN promotes WHO app-tracks kids' vaccine schedules
Never miss another jab
Ditta and Richard meant to take Dora, their younger child, for her second dose of the combined measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, but somehow it just slipped their minds. As working parents, there was so much to juggle in their home and professional lives that it was all too easy for that crucial second dose to fall off the ‘to do’ list. However, their memories were jogged in a less than pleasant way, when they visited relatives in an area of the UK in the grip of a measles outbreak.
Many children missing immunizations
WHO/F. K. Vorting
Immunization prevents an estimated 2-3 million deaths worldwide every year. Yet 1 in 5 children still misses out. In 2013, a number of European countries experienced large measles outbreaks, but the region has targeted the disease for elimination by 2015.
As more and more people—including busy parents—are won over by the user-friendly convenience of smart phones, their appetite for “apps” is growing by the day. Naturally, many public health authorities have recognized this as a major opportunity. A range of smart phone apps has appeared for purposes as diverse as treating your depression to calculating how many units of alcohol you might have consumed that week.
An immunization app
So Robb Butler and Ajay Goel of WHO’s European Region Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Immunization Programme decided an app would be the ideal way to help parents keep track of when their children are due for immunizations. However, they were also aware that many countries would find it difficult, if not impossible, to create such an app from scratch, for lack of funds or technical expertise. This was clearly somewhere WHO could lend a helping hand.
In 2013, they set about finding the right people to develop the code for a smart phone immunization reminder app to be made freely available to health authorities. Countries would then be able take the code and customize it to make an app to meet their particular needs. Writing code is the biggest piece of the work to develop a new app, leaving those who have access to the code with only the finishing touches left to do—the icing on the cake—quickly and cheaply.
“This app will make it easier for parents to know which vaccines their children need and when, through automatic reminders.”
Robb Butler, WHO European Region
The app that WHO has developed contains information on vaccines, the diseases they prevent and the immunization schedule of the country where it will be made available. Parents who download it just put in the names and dates of birth of their children and their phone sends them a reminder each time a new immunization is due, even offering them the option of dialling the doctor’s number with one click.
“We know that convenience is an important factor for busy parents and it’s all too easy to just forget whether your child has had all the necessary vaccinations. This app will make it easier for parents to know which vaccines their children need and when, through automatic reminders,” explains Robb Butler.
Customizable for each country
The beauty of each country’s health authority customizing the app is that it will be 100% appropriate to the community in which it will be used. It also means that when new vaccines are added or modifications made to the national schedule, there is already a local service provider on hand to make those changes. Lastly, it encourages ownership of the project.
The first countries to pilot national versions of the app will be Estonia, Hungary and Romania, under a project coordinated by the Republic of Moldova. These countries’ apps should be available for the public to download around the time of World Immunization Week (also European Immunization Week)—in the last week of April 2014.
World Immunization Week
The slogan for World Immunization Week 2014 is “Immunize for a healthy future: Know, Check, Protect”. WHO encourages families to learn more about vaccine-preventable diseases, check whether they are up-to-date with recommended vaccines, and visit their health provider to get protected.
In countries where more than one language is spoken, a language switch button has been added to the app in order to provide the same standard of service for all communities.
The current version of the app is intended for parents of 0–10-year-olds receiving standard vaccines. However, strong interest from other countries has spurred plans to produce a new version which will allow for optional vaccines to be included. Future versions will also allow users to add other family members not in the 0-10 year age range.
“We were lucky,” says Richard, “our daughter didn’t catch measles but I was uncomfortable with the fact that we left it to chance. The first thing we did when we got home was make an appointment with the nurse. Ditta and I both wished we’d had a system to remind us. We will definitely be downloading the app.”