Health Communications in Today’s High-Tech World
Texting for Public Health Communications
While the Ebola outbreak has been a wild media storm in the US, it has been a harsh reality in Africa. Aid workers in Liberia have begun using text messaging to alert specific populations. “Workers with the United Nations Children’s Fund sent texts to a group of Monrovia teenagers telling them how to sign up for Ebola alerts.” (Chicago Tribune). It has become a two-way channel for health communications where those teens can reply back with questions about avoiding the virus and ways to prevent sickness.
“Since the Ebola outbreak began last April, the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) system has sent out about 2 million text messages a month in Sierra Leone, reminding people to seek treatment early, avoid physical contact with others and not resist the efforts of community health care workers.” (NPR).
This is key in areas of the world where internet is not available everywhere, especially in Sierra Leone where 60% of the population lives below the national poverty line.
While literacy rates in countries like Sierra Leone are quite low (about 43%), it is likely for a few people to have cellphones in villages who can read the text messages and disseminate the information to others.
“Ivory Coast, richer still than Nigeria and so far Ebola-free, is capitalizing on the mobile connectivity of its citizens by sending out millions of mass text messages warning about the dangers of Ebola and how to avoid catching it. Smartphone penetration is still low in Africa relative to the rest of the world—in Ivory Coast around 25% of all mobile phones are smartphones, while 90% of households have access to a mobile phone.” (Wall Street Journal).
Mobile Apps Help Gather Information
In addition to these text alerts, mobile apps have been used for reporting Ebola cases and used as a resource for safety information. Scientists and developers all over the world are working hard to track and even predict the patterns of the Ebola virus. If you have not already heard about Flowminder, then you should search it. Flowminder is the organization from MIT that has created national mobility estimates for West Africa, and they have delivered population mobility maps derived from anonimized mobile phone call detail record (CDR) datasets – see the image below to get an idea.
“For us in Africa, connectivity is a life and death issue.”
(A resident of Ivory Coast)