A tiny Santa Rosa software company, which once gave away its technology to help a war-torn African nation, has become a player in President Bush's $15 billion initiative to combat AIDS worldwide.
Comp Pro Med, Inc., has signed a $250,000 contract with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide its medical laboratory information system to 125 labs in Ethiopia.
The company, with five employees and an 800-square-foot office on Mendocino Avenue, is one of the smallest companies working on the President's 2003 Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Its software records each patient's test results for HIV/AIDS and then follows the patient through treatment as blood tests reflect the course of the disease.
It is expected to produce quicker results, reduce misdiagnoses in thousands of AIDS orphans, and provide the CDC with a reliable, standardized database.
If the Ethiopian installation is successful, the CDC contract calls for expanding Comp Pro Med's systems to 14 other African nations.
"It's a big, big deal for us," said Jeff Fisher, chief executive officer. Established in 1981, Comp Pro Med has installed about 400 systems nationally and internationally and has a payroll of about $250,000.
The roots of the CDC contract began five years ago, when Fisher agreed to donate his software system to Pathologists Overseas - the lab equivalent of Doctors Without Borders - for use in Eritrea.
He gave it away because the country, ravaged by war with neighboring Ethiopia, was too poor to buy it, Fisher said.
"They needed an information system to help put their medical system back together, and it wasn't like we were going to make sale there anyway," Fisher said.
Two years ago, an Ethiopian medical worker living in the United States asked Fisher to help set up a similar system in his native land, still recovering from its war with Eritrea.
So Fisher again donated his software. "I did it out of guilt," he said. "I'd already helped the other half of the war."
The partnership proved successful, and the medical worker, Tamrat Bekele, went on to launch a series of medical laboratories in Ethiopia.
So when the CDC went looking for a company with a track record in medical laboratory information systems in Ethiopia, it approached Comp Pro Med, Fisher said.
"We're the only computerized medical system in the country," Fisher said.
Bekele said the doctors of Ethiopia were looking forward to Comp Pro Med's system going nationwide.
"There is no guesswork now," Bekele said in a statement. "Reporting occurs two times a day instead of once every two months. The quality of care is being improved immeasurably."
Fisher thinks the Ethiopian contract will lead to similar contracts in other African nations because of his track record in Eritrea and Ethiopia and because he will provide his systems at cost to the CDC.
"We're willing to do it on a nonprofit basis," Fisher said. "It's an honor to do something of such historic proportions."