Texts to relay life-saving info

The Red Cross is working with the telecommunications industry to use mobile phone technology to save lives in Sierra Leone.

The Red Cross and Airtel initiative aims to reach about one million Sierra Leoneans within its first month with information on disease outbreaks and other emergencies such as fires or floods.

About 70% of people in the country have access to a mobile phone and the number is rising.

Using a location-targeted SMS system called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA), the Red Cross, with support of leading mobile communications providers in the West African country, will be able to reach 36,000 people an hour at the touch of a button.

Sharon Reader, Red Cross TERA project manager, said: “This system is a real life-saver. We can use it to warn people when emergencies or outbreaks start and to give them vital information on preventing diseases like malaria and cholera.

“Even better, TERA is a two-way system so we can quickly assess the areas with the greatest need after an emergency, and respond to requests for information on a large-scale. Harnessing technology in this way is really helping the Red Cross to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our aid operations.”

Sierra Leone is only the second country in the world to launch the TERA SMS system after Haiti.

Sierra Leone hopes the TERA initiative will help cut down further fatalities from preventable diseases. The country is still recovering from a long-running civil war and cholera outbreak which killed hundreds last year.

Sierra Leone’s vice president chief Samuel Sam Sumana said: “Last year our country was hit by the worst cholera outbreak in 40 years. Simple information could have helped prevent some of the 300 deaths we suffered.

“We know Sierra Leone has a poor health record and the government is committed to doing something about that. Working with the Sierra Leone Red Cross, Airtel, Comium and SierraTel we can make sure people are armed with the knowledge and tools they need to protect themselves and their families.”

The system will immediately roll out information on preventing malaria, a disease which claims over 16,000 lives in Sierra Leone every year, making it the country’s largest preventable cause of death.