Chapter 6: Engaging Communities with PODD

published on 01 June 2022

Overview

Since 2014, PODD has been actively detecting abnormal health events and preventing outbreaks in Thailand with incredible support from both local governments and local communities. While PODD relies on software, the success of the project largely depends on the real-time data coming from our disease detectives in the field. These livestock owners are incentivized to provide health officials with direct disease data, since their own livelihood depends on the health of their animals. In order to learn from the experiences of our disease detectives, here are some feedback, lessons learned, and results we would like to share from previous PODD implementations in Thailand:

Feedback

  • The local communities who have PODD tend to trust their government more readily, as the open communication engenders mutual understanding and shared incentives of keeping communities safe. 
  • Local communities also trust that their government will respond to problems quicker because the PODD system empowers them to signal to their government when there’s a problem to address. 
  • Local governments also report feeling empowered to solve problems themselves, which makes them more engaged in finding solutions. 
  • Community engagement has increased as communities now have a tool they use to take action themselves in order to prevent outbreaks.

Lessons Learned

  • The key benefits of the PODD system 1) keep your community safe and 2) protect your livelihood by keeping your animals healthy, must be made clear and communicated frequently to the Volunteers. Volunteers must have clear incentives to continually submit reports with PODD. 
  • Volunteers’ performance with the PODD system over time requires firm commitment from local leadership, and periodic training and events to keep them engaged with the project. 
  • The PODD app is easy to use even for rural users who have never owned a mobile phone, however some basic training on digital literacy, such as how to take clear photos, is still recommended. 
  • The majority of backyard farmed animals live outside the capabilities of formal agricultural surveillance. 
  • Many local people were still consuming or selling chickens, cows, pigs, and other animals that died of unknown causes – some of which could have died from avian influenza, foot and mouth disease, african swine fever, or other deadly diseases. 

Results

  • In the first 3 months after launching PODD, more abnormal health events were reported than the entire previous year – which means that most animal illnesses and deaths were never reported in previous years. 
  • In the first two years, 36 incidents reported to the PODD system were verified as dangerous zoonotic diseases that could spread to humans and cause pandemics. These dangerous diseases would have never been detected and contained without the PODD system. 
  • A single case of foot and mouth disease was reported by a PODD volunteer, and controlled by the PODD response team before the disease could cause a widespread outbreak, which was estimated to have saved the local economy approximately $4 million USD. 
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