accessibility & help

Text messages send hope and save lives in Sierra Leone

15 April 2013

The British Red Cross is using innovative mobile phone technology to save lives with location-based messaging in Sierra Leone.

At the touch of a button, the SMS system – called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) – can reach 36,000 people in a specific location within an hour.

This April, the Red Cross and its telecommunications partner Airtel began using the system to reach around one million Sierra Leoneans with warnings about impending disasters, such as floods and outbreaks of disease, in the first month.

A real life-saver

TERA is a two-way system meaning Red Cross aid workers can quickly identify in which areas people need the most help and respond to requests for information on a large scale.

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.”

Sierra Leone is the second country in the world to launch the system, following its success in Haiti. Still recovering from a long-running civil war and cholera outbreak which killed hundreds last year, Sierra Leone hopes this initiative will stop preventable diseases from becoming fatalities.

Preventing the spread of disease

The project is kicking off with 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.

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 and west African mobile providers, we can make sure people are armed with the knowledge and tools they need to protect themselves and their families.”

Since its inception in 2011, around 100 million text messages have been sent via the TERA system. In a recent survey, 96 per cent of people who received an SMS from the Red Cross said the information was useful and as a result about 90 per cent made a change to their lifestyle. The Red Cross plans to launch TERA in 40 countries within the next five years, sending out disaster warnings to millions of people.

Read more about how communication technology is aiding emergency response.

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