Text messages save lives by spreading health information

Text messages aren't just for everyday communication anymore. Now the technology is being used to help people deal with health issues around the world.

Recently, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) partnered with the government in Sierra Leone as well as with Airtel, the local cell phone provider. These organizations are working together to send Ebola-related health reminders to citizens via SMS.

The text messages inform individuals of the signs of Ebola, advising them to seek treatment as soon as they experience symptoms. They also recommend avoiding physical contact in order to decrease the chance of contamination, and to defer to the expertise of local health care workers. The citizens can then text back questions about the disease and receive region-specific answers.

The Ebola outbreak began in Sierra Leone last April, and since then, the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) has sent approximately two million messages each month. TERA can send messages to every mobile device in a given geographical range, with no charge exacted from the recipient.

This is a great way of spreading important information, because 69 percent of people in Sierra Leone have a cell phone, and the news can then be spread verbally to the rest of the population.

The TERA system was first used after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and has previously been activated in Sierra Leone for a 2013 cholera outbreak. The Red Cross told NPR that it hopes to establish the program in other countries, as well.

SMS messages are being used to fight other diseases, too. Researchers with the non-profit Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) have had success in Ghana with text message reminding patients to complete their malaria medication.

Text messaging is becoming crucial for every part of life, from socialization and commerce to emergency contacts and health reminders. Make sure your company has an SMS service provider to keep up with the times.