The story behind Nyss

Innovation often starts with a crisis

Our crisis was the Sierra Leone cholera outbreak in 2012. The disease causes acute diarrhea and vomiting, leading to a rapid loss of fluids. Without treatment, the disease can be fatal. In Sierra Leone, cholera was spreading in rural areas which were hard to reach. The lack of health clinics meant that people were left untreated, leading to a rapid spread of the highly infectious disease.

Local knowledge

The Red Cross responded by setting up oral rehydration points (ORP) as a first aid to treat the 22 000+ infected. At the ORPs, patients received oral rehydration salts and logged the visits. As such, each of these ORPs held key information which would allow us to stop the outbreak. They knew everything about the communities they were in and had information about how and where the diseases were spreading. But, we couldn’t access this information in an efficient manner. Supervisors where driving around on motorbikes, collecting information and entering it into a spreadsheet — a process which took too long to be able to respond appropriately to what was going on in real-time.

The cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone demonstrated the need for a better information system.

Innovation and humanitarian needs

This is the crisis which sparked the idea for our innovation. By finding a simple, low cost and accessible way to get real-time data from communities who are off the grid, without healthcare, electricity or facebook, we could save more lives, and potentially stop outbreaks before they even happen. Following the cholera outbreak, Norwegian Red Cross tested different community based surveillance (CBS) systems during the ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and during the plague outbreak in Madagascar. However, all the systems tested required a lot of manual follow-up from people. This proved the need for a tool that could both register and analyze data, while still being easy to use for local volunteers and national societies.

Tech volunteers

With the excellent help of contributors from the Norwegian tech-community, we started programming a community-based surveillance system for the Red Cross or Red Crescent movement. By the end of 2019 we had expanded our volunteer community to include coders in Dakar, Senegal and Brussels, Belgium - reaching over 250 volunteers from over 10 countries!

Piloting the platform

A first version of the platform was put in production in May 2018. It was then piloted in Somaliland by the Somalia Red Crescent Society and during the Mozambique cholera response operation in 2019.


The result of our volunteers' and partners' commitment and efforts was the launching of Nyss in 2020.