“911 Where There is None:” Nonprofit Offers Technology to Improve Emergency Medical Services in Resource-limited Settings

Recent high-profile public health emergencies like Ebola, Zika, and cholera highlight the necessity of locally-run emergency medical response networks to mitigate premature death and contain the spread of disease. In the event of a disease outbreak in the United States like the 2009 N1 pandemic, the public can call "911" and expect prompt emergency medical response, with follow-up surveillance by public health officials. In many low- and middle-income countries, however, no such service exists, typically owing to lack of infrastructure or prohibitive costs.

Trek Medics International is a nonprofit organization that improves emergency medical systems in resource-limited communities. Central to their approach is Beacon, a text message-based emergency dispatching software designed specifically for communities where advanced "911" technologies are either unaffordable or inappropriate. Beacon works by relaying requests for emergency assistance via text message from the scene of an emergency to nearby trained community responders. It then coordinates these first responders to ensure that patients are located, stabilized, and transported promptly to local facilities.

Started with seed funding from Cardinal Health, Google.org, and USAID, Trek Medics is currently working with local community organizations in the Dominican Republic and Tanzania to provide 24-7 emergency medical response to a combined total of 200,000 persons who otherwise would have no access to pre-hospital care and transport.

Using Beacon, community first responders have responded to over 400 incidents, including both communicable and non-communicable diseases such as cholera, dengue, road traffic accidents, and maternal and neonatal emergencies. Their systems are designed with the objective that 90% of callers in communities using Beacon will be attended to by trained responders within 10 minutes in urban centers and 30 minutes in rural communities.

Trek Medics' approach is based on the belief that 90% of the resources needed to implement effective EMS systems are already available- namely, young adults with phones in their pockets, using vehicles that are already on the road. "Our goal is not to have these communities outsource their EMS systems to us," founder Jason Friesen says. "We offer communities the tools to design, manage, and sustain their own community-based systems. This also provides educational and leadership opportunities to the community's young adults- skills they'll carry with them for a lifetime."

Source: Trek Medics International