Life-saving Ebola texting service is expanding

A text-messaging service that provides health and safety advice about Ebola is expanding in West Africa, according to the BBC.

It’s basically a way to send life-saving spam, alerting charities working in the area, including the Red Cross, to all switched-on phones in a region, so they can send each one a warning text. The software communicates directly with mobile operators’ computer records, so no one operating it can see any numbers, meaning texts are sent without violating anyone’s privacy.

Called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (Tera), it’s currently in use in Sierra Leone and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies plan to also expand its use to Benin, Togo, Ghana, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and Burkina Faso.

The expansion will take around nine months, as long as local authorities and mobile phone networks agree. The texts it sends provide information on how to avoid infection, spot potential symptoms, and access treatment, and around two million a month are sent in Sierra Leone right now. The charities have found it an effective medium as not only does it transmit information, but that info can then be kept for reference.

Tera was first used in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake and was installed in Sierra Leone last year after one of the largest cholera outbreaks in the country’s history. As you’ve probably heard, Ebola is now at epidemic levels, having killed 4000 people in West Africa, 71% of the people who’ve contracted it.

It’s spread so quickly as it’s hit poor communities where there’s no running water and hospital resources are inadequate. There’s also been a lack of information about best practices, such as the danger of following traditional techniques like washing the dead, so these charity texts really could save lives.

Image via IFRC.

Diane Shipley