By Henry Makiwa:
The Red Cross has teamed up with the telecommunications industry to use mobile phone technology, to save lives in Sierra Leone.Launching today (15 April 2013), the Red Cross and Airtel initiative aims to reach around 1 million Sierra Leoneans within its first month with information on disease outbreaks and other emergencies such as fires or floods.
Using an innovative 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.
“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,” said Sharon Reader, the Red Cross TERA project manager.
“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. Still recovering from a long-running civil war and cholera outbreak which killed hundreds last year, Sierra Leone hopes the TERA initiative will help cut down further fatalities from preventable diseases.
“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,” Sierra Leone’s Vice President Chief Samuel Sam Sumana said.
“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,” he added.
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.
Ian Beckett, Vice President of Trilogy International Partners, comments: “What is unique about TERA is that is a real joint effort between ourselves and the Red Cross. TERA takes into account the needs of the aid agencies, but also the concerns of the mobile operator in terms of capacity and security. For example, SMS are targeted to those who need them avoiding the spam effect and can be timed to deliver at off peak times reducing the impact on the networks.”
Airtel’s Managing Director RVS Bhullar agrees: “At first we were worried about the impact this might have on Airtel’s network but once we looked into the architecture of TERA we could see it had been designed with the needs of the mobile operator in mind. No other disaster warning system is capable of reaching such large numbers of people in such a short space of time and in such a direct, personal way as SMS. Airtel is delighted to be part of this project and to put our network to good use working with the Red Cross and the Government to have a real positive impact on our customers’ health and well being.”
Notes to editors
– For interviews, photography and spokespeople, please contact Henry Makiwa HMakiwa@redcross.org.uk or 020 7877 7479
– TERA was first developed in response to the devastating 2010 Haitian Earthquake by the local mobile operator Trilogy International Partners.
– Around 70% of Sierra Leoneans have access to a mobile phone and this number is growing each year in line with the rest of the developing world.
– Sierra Leone suffers extreme poverty with one of the poorest health records in West Africa. Life expectancy is just 50 years old, 18 years below the global average. Child and maternal mortality rates are amongst the worst in the world. The country suffers from epidemic outbreaks of preventable diseases including yellow fever, cholera, lassa fever and meningitis.
– Sierra Leone also suffers from more than 20 natural disasters each year, including floods, landslides and bushfires, affecting an average of 7500 people each year through loss of life, homes, crops or livelihoods.
By Henry Makiwa: