How Cell Phones Help Fight Malaria in Zambia

LIVINGSTONE, Zambia -- At the Siakasipa Clinic located approximately 30 miles from the famous Victoria Falls in southern Zambia, head Nurse Ruth Nghlove serves approximately 8,000 local residents. During the rainy season (November to April) malaria cases are higher than during the dry season (May to October) as the mosquitoes breed in water.

Several key interventions have been implemented since 2000, including distributing long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying and antimalarial medicines to curb the disease. The introduction of rapid reporting systems, using mobile phones to provide real-time data and the detection of high-infection areas, has health workers and volunteers excited about ending malaria deaths for good.

"With my mobile phone, I can get updates from health care volunteers while they are out in the field instead of waiting hours, sometimes days, for them to make it back here to the clinic with their reports" said Nghlove.

Community health volunteers are not paid a salary in Zambia. Instead, the Ministry of Health and partnering NGOs, such as PATH supply them with incentives including mobile phones and bicycles for their time and efforts. Even so, some health care volunteers are still in need of "talk time" -- or cell phone minutes -- to continue their work.

"I am grateful for the free phone but without talk time, I cannot afford to send in my reports electronically," remarked one community health volunteer, Anna.

Others, such as Kdnele, who has been a community health volunteer for 18 years, is grateful for his phone and bike. "I'm able to visit 6 to 8 patients instead of 3 to 4 with my bike, and I didn't have a mobile phone until I was given one to file my reports," he said.

PATH, in partnership with the Republic of Zambia Ministry of Health, has developed a three-step approach to eradicate malaria, including rapid reporting, mass testing and treatment and active surveillance. These steps are being implemented in Zambia on the pilot level with the goal of creating "malaria-free" zones which will then be duplicated in other sub-Saharan African countries.

On April 25, the global malaria community will commemorate World Malaria Day under the theme, "Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria," aiming to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goals and defeat malaria. While many developing countries have an uphill battle ahead, Zambia has found that embracing mobile technology is making those goals as realistic as sending a text message.

*For a social media display of community health workers and volunteers, click here.

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