United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Johannesburg, South Africa

Digital pens help fight against disease – 21 September 2008

Background information

This project is being currently carried out in 6 countries, namely Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has offices all around the world. One of the tasks of the organization is to monitor the diseases in animals around the world and provide the information to their regional offices and also to their central office in Rome which is being done by doing surveillance in periodic basis and collection of outbreak of diseases. Collection of surveillance and outbreak data used to be done manually by field officer, and then send to district office. From district office, the collected data used to be sent to regional offices. Then the collected data used to be captured manually onto a computer system. This process used to take a quite a lot of time when doing consolidation and couldn’t provide timely information on outbreak of disease.


The challenge was to automate the capture of disease outbreak and surveillance data and provide information to predict the outbreak of diseases.


Xcallibre accessed what kind of information needs to be collected for outbreak and Surveillance and designed a form with a series of tick boxes, labels ,textboxes and critical fields embedded into the form that will work well with a Digital Pen solution. Also we created lexicons for names of diseases, species and locations to be used by hand writing recognition engine to convert the pen strokes into ASCII characters. As names of diseases, species and locations were very tricky; building our own lexicon increased the efficiency in hand writing recognition quite dramatically. The information collected on digital form is then uploaded immediately via Bluetooth and GPRS technology to a central computer where there are stored. Now surveillance and outbreak data can be available for viewing in couple of seconds at the regional offices by a web interface which can help in accessing the outbreak of diseases in a particular location.
The solution was also enhanced to allow for the upload of GPS coordinates, photographs and barcodes of the animals in addition to the form data.

A web based Form Utility and workflow application was also developed which allowed Updation and approval of gathered data. Reporting facilities were also developed to report of the gathered data.


    • As the data is uploaded when away from the office, there is less need for an employee to spend time traveling to and from their offices to re-enter data and this creates time for them to engage in more rewarding activities.


  • Using the Digital Pen combined with a mobile phone , both of which can fit in a jacket pocket, may also reduce an employee’s concern about working in locations where a more visible and expensive piece of equipment like a laptop might leave them.
  • Data collected is available in an instant which acts as an enabler for talking actions and also predict outbreak of diseases among animals in specific locations. Unlike other fully computerized systems, paper copies of the form still exist and can be left with a colleague or filed as appropriate for reference.