Reaching the unreachable with SMS health messagesBy Oxfam
Polio is a highly infectious viral disease, which affects young children and can lead to paralysis and sometimes death. There is no cure for polio, but it is preventable with the proper inoculations, and it is close to being eradicated globally.
Somalia had been declared officially polio-free until an ‘explosive’ outbreak of the disease in May 2013. The spread of the disease was facilitated by lack of immunisation in remote communities and poor hygiene, and exacerbated by population movements due to the region’s political instability.
Oxfam teamed up with UNICEF and local partner Hijra to tackle the disease by providing communities with health education and access to basic hygiene without the need for face-to-face intervention, something that was proving difficult in Somalia’s volatile situation. The solution was a mobile phone based service to improve polio awareness and offer healthcare advice via text messages, as well as providing SMS vouchers to be redeemed at local collection centres in exchange for sanitation items such as soap and clean water.
The polio education component reached 104,358 people and had a completion rate of 86%. The last polio case in Somalia was in August 2014, and the WHO has cautiously ventured that Africa is advancing ‘toward a polio-free continent’. Oxfam does not claim responsibility for this, but the SMS service certainly had a hand in helping to empower Somali people in the fight against the disease.
The SMS platform is still being developed further, and lessons have been learnt from the deployment in Somalia. The service will be used in future epidemics and Oxfam envisages that the SMS vouchers could be a game-changer in aid distribution.
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Last updated: 14th of September, 2015