1.0 Background
An Epihack event was organized and held at the Mount Meru hotel located in Arusha city of Tanzania on December 8th-12th 2014. The event was co-hosted by the Southern African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance (SACIDS), Eastern African Integrated Disease Surveillance Network (EAIDSNet), Connecting Organizations for Regional Disease Surveillance Network (CORDS) and Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD). It was funded by the US-based Skoll Global Threats Fund. The objectives of organizing this event were:
i)               To bring together health experts (animal and human health sectors) and software developers to collaborate in providing solutions to challenges facing disease surveillance and response in Southern and Eastern African region.
ii)             To build and strengthen cross-border working relationships between six countries (Burundi, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) in one health disease surveillance.
iii)            To collaboratively prototype fit for purpose digital solution to detect infectious disease outbreaks through strengthened inter-sectorial and cross-border disease surveillance.
2.0 Project achievements
The following were achievements of the Epihack Tanzania event:
i)               The Epihack Tanzania successfully brought together a total number of 66 participants (Figure 1). In order to ensure that the participants were fully engaged, the ratio of facilitator to participants was 1: 3.5.
ii)             Participants were from 14 countries as summarized in Figure 2. This mixture allowed intense interaction as well as sharing information and experiences from different disciplines (computer software developers, public/animal health specialists, community human/animal health workers and pastoral community leadership); countries, continents and international organizations. Through such experience, it is anticipated that closer working relationship between neighboring countries as well as CORDS networks (SACIDS, EAIDSNet and MBDS) will be strengthened. Furthermore, bringing together key people from East and Southern African countries that constitute geographic scale of a proposed project on ‘Enhancement of the Disease Surveillance Network with Digital and Mobile Technology for Earlier Detection and Quicker Response in Southern / Eastern Africa’ paved way for future collaboration between countries (cross-border disease surveillance and response) as well as between software developers and health experts.
iii)            Epihack Tanzania event attracted participants from different organizations and institutions. These included: SACIDS (10), EAIDSNet (1), InSTEDD (4), Skoll Global Threats Fund (3), MBDS (1), OpenDream (2), NIMR (2), KEMRI (1), AU-STRC (4), FAO-Rome (2) and CDC-Atlanta (1). The majority of health experts were from ministries responsible for public health (7) and animal health (4) in the East and Southern African regions. Software developers from southern and East Africa included those non-governmental institutions (13) and academic institutions (6).
iv)            Out of 59 targeted Epihack invitees (i.e. invited IT and health officials; facilitators and funders excluding logistic support staff and invited dignitaries), 29 (49.2%) were developers while the rest were either from human health (28.8%) or animal health (domestic and wildlife- 16.9%) sectors (Figure 3). Three other participants were of other specializations including fund raising (1), economics (1) and engagement (1) expertise. This distribution created an appropriate atmosphere that helped invited developers to design and develop digital solutions for public and animal health sectors under close guidance of the health experts.
v)             Organization of a field trip (Figure 4) on day 2 of Epihack provided an opportunity to the participants to interact directly with pastoral communities and community human and animal health workers and to observe and experience challenges faced by the public and animal health sector in Tanzania. This trip contributed to improving design of digital solutions for official reporting, community-based participatory surveillance, feedback and contact tracing.  The field trip was also crucial in promoting engagement with fellow team members. Group members congregated in one vehicle during the field trip providing ample time and good atmosphere for them to get to know one another personally and brainstorm on plans and activities throughout the event
vi)            During Epihack event four prototypes were designed and presented. Although these prototypes are not fully developed, they were admired by the Guest of Honor, i.e. the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office of the United Republic of Tanzania, who recommended deploying them to the field.
vii)          Participants were exposed to SACIDS technologies (SMSCollect and ODK-based app) as well as FAO EMA-i application used for collection and reporting of disease surveillance data in Southern African region (Ngorongoro, Kagera River basin and Zambezi River basin) and Uganda, respectively. The participants were also exposed to InSTEDD applications (Verboice, Resource Map, MBuilder & Reporting wheel) as well as DoctorMe application from the OpendDream.
viii)         Print, TV, electronic media engagement was successfully carried out as summarized in Table 1. This provided opportunity to engage the public using different pathways and languages.
Figure 1: Distribution of Epihack Tanzania participants (n=66) by categories.
Figure 2: Distribution of Epihack Participants (n=66) by country.
Figure 3: Distribution of key Epihack participants (n=59, excluding dignitaries and support staff) by software developers and Health expert categories
Figure 4: Field experience on challenges facing public and animal health sectors in Africa (day 2 field trip in Ngorongoro)
Table 1: Media engagement during and after Epihack Tanzania event
Media type
December 9th  2014
Television: ‘Independent Television Limited- ITV)
News Bulletin at 20:00 hours: Summary of Epihack Tanzania opening session
December 9th  2014
Television: StarTV
News Bulletin at 20:00 hours: Summary of Epihack Tanzania opening session
December 9th  2014
Radio: Radio One
Special programme (Kumepambazuka) at 09:00 hours: Summary of Epihack Tanzania opening session
December 10th  2014
Print: ‘Habari Leo’ newspaper
Mfumo wa taarifa za magonjwa ya kuambukiza Afrika ni hafifu (Health information system for communicable diseases is weak in Africa)
December 12th 2014
Print: ‘Nipashe’ newspaper
Mfumo duni wakwaza huduma (Weak surveillance system contributes to poor health services)
December 12th 2014
NIMR Website
Closing Speech by the Deputy Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office-United Republic of Tanzania (Dr Deo Mtasiwa) available at
December 13th  2014
Print: ‘The Guardian’ newspaper
Health surveillance inefficient in Africa, says medical expert
December 13th , 2014
Television: ITV
News Bulletin at 20:00 hours Summary of closing of Epihack Tanzania session
December 13th 2014
Television: StarTV
News Bulletin at 20:00 hours-Summary of closing of Epihack Tanzania session
December 13th 2014
Social Media: Bongo ya Leo blog
Health surveillance inefficient in Africa, says medical expert. Available at
December 15th 2014
Radio: Radio One
News Bulletin at 20:00 hours closing of Epihack Tanzania coverage
December 8th 2014 to present
SACIDS website
CORDS website
December 14, 2014
InsTEDD website
Epihack Tanzania 2014 available at
Social media: Facebook
December 15th 2014
Social media: Youtube
Epihack Tanzania Time Lapse (4.05 min video clip) available at
Social media: Twitter
Epihack Tanzania available at tweets contributed by individuals and institutions)
December 7-12th2014
Website: Google
Epihack Tanzania photos shared on google plus. Available at
3.0 Products of Epihack Tanzania and Implementations solutions
During the five-day period of Epihack Tanzania, four prototypes relevant to improving disease surveillance and response were developed. These include:
i)               Official data collection from facility-based disease surveillance reporting system (targeting submitting real-time disease reporting data).
ii)             Contact tracing (digital solution to support official tracking of potential disease outbreaks including identification of affected households or livestock herds and their locations to aid outbreak investigation).
iii)             Community-based participatory disease surveillance through a feedback of expert opinion on likely diagnosis to trigger focused follow up investigation.
iv)            Feedback: two-way communication to facilitate prompt feed-back to health facilities/communities and enhance interaction between community and sub-national (district) health systems.
·       Demos for the four prototypes developed were presented on the final day of Epihack.
·       The Government of United Republic of Tanzania, through the Deputy Permanent Secretary- Prime Minister’s office commended the Epihack outputs and recommended deployment of these prototypes in strategic sites to contribute to the Big Results Now (BRN) initiative in Tanzania and to facilitate cross-border disease information exchange between the countries represented at the EpiHack event.
·       Post-Epihack Tanzania discussion with the funder (Skoll Global Threats Fund) proposed:
1.     To develop a short-term project aimed at finalizing the prototypes developed and pilot deployment of them in selected field sites of East and Southern African countries.
2.     To write an abstract that will be submitted for consideration of oral presentation at the 3rd GRF One Health Summit scheduled in Davos, Switzerland on October 4-7, 2015, more information is available at
·       It was discussed and agreed to visit FAO Headquarters to learn more both about the EMA-i system (being deployed in Uganda) and the EMPRES-i, especially its regional hub component that could be provide some lessons for SACIDS as a regional hub in the proposed projects.
·       The meeting of Health (Animal and human sectors) experts held on Day 4 (December 11th 2014) agreed on the following matters:
1.     That cross-border and cross-sectorial collaboration in East and Southern African regions is key to improved disease surveillance and response to disease epidemics in human and animal populations.
2.     For short-term solution, cross-border collaboration should start at local cross-border areas. This will generate evidence for cross-border collaboration at national level.
3.     That there is a need to set-up of appropriate structures to promote cross-border collaboration through East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional blocs.
4.     That there is a need to agree and develop frameworks for sharing information (both technical and administrative).
4.0Lessons learnt, challenges faced and recommendations for organizing Epihack
4.1 Lessons learnt
The following are lessons learnt during organization of Epihack Tanzania event:
·       A collaborative effort between SACIDS, InSTEDD, CORDS and Skoll GTF in organizing Epihack was instrumental for the success of Epihack Tanzania.
·       Participatory planning and identification of challenges between facilitators and Epihack participants generated appropriate challenge list which ensured constant interest and engagement of all participants.
·       The field trip on day 2 provided opportunity to appreciate the ‘real world’ facing human and animal health sector and contributed to better design of digital solutions.
4.2 Challenges faced and recommendations
·       There was little time for facilitators to meet before the event. In future, it is recommended to identify specific Epihack objectives as well as understanding the participants well in advance. It was further recommended to organize a pre-hack engagement/orientation of all facilitators e.g. by Webnar, to discuss and agree on objectives.
·       Time set for the developers to design and develop prototypes was not enough. It is recommended to organize a field trip on day 1 and allocate ample time to the developers (including minimal interruptions during dinner time).
·       Due to limited time, it was difficult to have maximum interactions between participants. It was recommended to have bigger letters on name tags so that the names are readable from the distance.
Epihack is a convening that brings together IT programmers and health experts to jointly plan and develop together some digital solutions (prototypes) to health challenges facing the animal and public health sectors.
BRN stands for the Big Results Now, a Malaysian Model of development that has been adopted recently (2013-14) by the United Republic of Tanzania as an effort to transition of the country from low to middle-income economy. BRN initiative focuses on selected six priority areas affecting national economy which are:  health, water, education, energy and natural gas, transport and mobilization of resources and; agriculture.
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Email this to someone