Fighting malaria with technology

News and Press Release
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At the click of a mouse, IFRC Beneficiary Communications delegate, Sharon Reader, sends life-saving SMS messages on malaria prevention to the Haitian population.

Mobile phone technology was used to bring life saving information to millions of Haitians on this year’s World Malaria Day on April 25th 2011.

The Red Cross has embarked on a nationwide malaria prevention campaign, sending over 3.5 million SMS messages which include information on how malaria is transmitted, how to recognize the symptoms, treatment options, and simple steps for prevention.

“There are nearly four million mobile phone subscribers in Haiti” said Sharon Reader, IFRC Beneficiary Communications delegate. “Mobile technology is a fast, easy and cost-effective way to put life-saving information directly in the hands of the population.”

The SMS campaign also encouraged Haitians to tune in to the weekly Radyo Kwa Wouj show, which is broadcast live across the country on the Radio 1 network. A dedicated malaria show featured interviews with expert guests including Dr. Clergé Junior Agenor, Emergency Health coordinator of the Haitian Red Cross, and hygiene promotor Jean-Philippe Strayford. Listeners had a chance to participate in a live phone-in question and answer session. Callers were keen to learn how to care for treated mosquito nets, whether the nets were harmful to humans and what specific measures could be taken to protect children from contracting malaria.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2009 about 3.3 billion people - half of the world's population - were at risk of malaria, with people living in the poorest countries being the most vulnerable. The SMS campaign is just one part of the Red Cross malaria strategy in Haiti, which also focuses on community engagement.

“Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers visit camps and communities everyday,” said Dr. Clergé Junior Agenor. “They are reinforcing the same awareness messages and demonstrating simple prevention measures to community members.”

These simple measures include advising local communities to keep drainage channels free of debris to prevent stagnant water building up in which mosquitoes can easily breed, and to clean areas around their houses or shelters. Pregnant woman and young children especially are most at risk from malaria and are reminded to seek out a doctor straight away when symptoms like vomiting or constant crying occur.

Combined with this outreach programme, the Red Cross is also carrying out targeted distributions of treated mosquito nets to families in selected at-risk communities in Carrefour, Mirebalais, Archaies, Sainte Marie, Leogane and Petit Goave. A total of 500 families will benefit from these specially treated nets which serve as major protection against mosquitoes as they die upon contact.