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Frugal development and deployment of an innovative mobile health platform for COVID-19 in Sri Lanka: the case of SelfShield app
  1. Pandula Siribaddana1,
  2. Chathura Wirasinghe2,
  3. Sahan Perera1,
  4. Dilshan Ganepola3,
  5. Vajira H W Dissanayake4
  1. 1Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  2. 2District General Hospital Nuwara Eliya, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
  3. 3Ministry of Health, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  4. 4Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  1. Correspondence to Dr Pandula Siribaddana, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka; pandula{at}

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Summary box

What are the new findings?

  • Design of mobile digital health tools using cutting edge technology may be achieved frugally even in low-resource contexts.

  • Repurposing of communities of practice as design teams, digital transformation of evidence-based bedside clinical tests and agile methodologies fitting the purpose may help achieve frugalness.

How might it impact on healthcare in the future?

  • Focusing on already validated and tested bedside tests may form the foundation for digital health innovations aimed at patient empowerment in emergency situations.

  • User empowerment is a useful guide for digital health innovations particularly in response to pandemic situations in the future.


During the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging technologies focused largely on strengthening the health system, supporting law enforcement authorities, and enabling researchers to model COVID-19 outbreaks and resource requirements.1 When the health systems are burdened by the influx of patients with COVID-19, it is neither practical nor rational to treat all patients with COVID-19 in the hospital as many will either be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. Thus, home monitoring of patients has been practised in many countries.2 3 Respiratory involvement was the first documented site of complications and still continues to be responsible for majority of the deaths.4 Therefore, in order to provide effective home care for patients with COVID-19, we recognised the need for a frugal technology tool to monitor patients remotely including monitoring the breathing performance.

Guided by the Commonwealth Centre for Digital Health (CWCDH), a voluntary group of medical doctors, health informaticians and software developers from Sri Lanka embarked on a mission to fulfil this need by developing a smart phone-based self-health checking tool. Named the SelfShield project, the system comprised a smart phone app, a dashboard for medical teams and machine learning algorithms capable of analysing breathing and voice signals.

This report reflects on our early experience with the SelfShield system and we were guided by …

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  • Contributors PS conceptualised and drafted the initial manuscript; and CW and SP expanded relevant sections. PS, DG and VHWD edited the final manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.