NICD launches a Crowdsourced Health Platform in South Africa

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service, is excited to announce the pilot launch of CoughWatchSA ­– a respiratory health survey designed to monitor acute respiratory tract infections (ARI) that include COVID-19 and influenza-like illnesses (ILI). This survey will also link eligible participants to a home-based testing study, where they may receive a laboratory confirmation for flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) or Corona Virus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19).

Monitoring of ARI cases in many developing countries is limited by the severity of illness, testing capacity and access to medical resources. CoughWatchSA, a Digital Participatory Surveillance (DPS) platform, will support and improve the detection and monitoring of respiratory disease outbreaks through user-reporting of ARI symptoms. The platform will allow the NICD to understand where an outbreak is likely to occur by collating and interpreting data from participants.

CoughWatchSA is available as an online survey wherein user participation is voluntary. Participants form part of a group of volunteers, who report their symptom information on a weekly basis. Data will be collected and analysed by the NICD and used to monitor trends in respiratory illness. This online survey is not a replacement for existing mobile apps from the Department of Health, but an extension to support ongoing efforts for respiratory disease surveillance – beyond COVID-19. The survey can be accessed here:

CoughWatchSA is intended to be a platform for long-term surveillance of influenza-like illness and COVID-19. It is not developed to replace any existing COVID19-related apps released by the National Department of Health. This platform will be used to support and complement existing facility-based surveillance programs for respiratory diseases in South Africa.

A special added feature is the link to a home-based testing study called CoughCheck, where participants from selected suburbs in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape, may request for a self-swabbing kit to be delivered to them if they have symptoms of respiratory illness. They will then collect a respiratory sample themselves following detailed instructions, and this will be delivered to the laboratory for confirmation. Results will be sent to the participant electronically.  This will allow for the diagnosis of self-reported suspected cases and improve our ability to obtain virologic data directly from the community.

All data regulations are strictly adhered to with privacy and confidentiality as top priorities. No identifying information is collected apart from email addresses of participants, which is removed from the analysis data.

The configuration of CoughWatchSA could help South Africa detect and trigger warning signals for the start of the influenza season in 2022 and potentially any subsequent waves of COVID-19 outbreaks. We encourage participation from the public to strengthen public health.

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