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By adaptive - May 31st, 2016
Smartphones have changed people’s lives in a number of ways, but one of the most dramatic uses may be its use to save lives. That is the raison d'etre of the non-profit Malaria No More. It seeks to be the first mobile-only campaign to defeat a disease.
Martin Edlund is CEO and a founding member of Malaria No More. He says 2016 is “a very exciting moment in the Malaria fight.”
After all President Obama included it in his speeches to the United Nations General Assembly last September and the State of the Union in January. He also requested an additional $200 million for the President’s Malaria Initiative begun by his predecessor, George W. Bush, to fight malaria in his annual budget request in February on top of the original ask of $674 million.
Edlund discussed how Malaria No More uses mobile phones and technology in its own efforts to defeat the deadly disease…
OMM: How, and why, did you get the idea to start a mobile-only campaign to eradicate the disease?
Edlund: Mobile and data are playing a vital role in eradicating this disease. In our view, mobile is essential in our goal to eradicate this disease. It’s one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases. The word malaria is a misnomer, it means bad air, and that’s how they thought it was transmitted. It wasn’t until 1897 we knew it was transmitted by mosquitoes.
Data via mobile phones is how we’re going to win. There’s been an explosion of mobile phones. We’ve leapfrogged landlines and PCs, malaria can and will be the first disease beaten by mobile.
OMM: How are you using technology to track the disease?
Edlund: In the malaria fight mobile and data determine how we use resources effectively, to know where the parasite is and where it moves and mobile allows us to use other tools better.
For example: as recently as five years ago we were still using microscopes to diagnose malaria. Now there are hundreds of millions of fibers tested and diaganosed as positive or negative malaria. Each of these tests is data.
The Malaria Atlas Projects—MAP, they took all these tests dating back to the mid ‘80s and built a model in 5x5 km pixels across Africa, we now have a precise picture of who carries the disease.
We’ve overlayed human mobility patterns over malaria and we can see where people are moving who are carriers.
We can see parasite mobility, from southern Mozambique to states and areas in Southern Africa that had little endemic malaria. It allows countries to collaborate across borders.
OMM: How does mobile technology help you in educating, raising money, and fighting the disease?
Edlund: Mobile phones have been fundamental to health education efforts. We began working in Cameroon in 2010 when they were doing first universal coverage for the bednets campaigns. It’s one of the most heavily endemic malarial areas in Central Africa. How do you get the word out to tens of millions of people, many of whom have not had a net before?
We partnered with MTN, the biggest mobile carrier in Cameroon. It’s based on the FOX TV news announcement, “It’s 10pm, do you know where your kids are?”
Soccer star Didier Drogba (from Ivory Coast) worked with us. We sent text messages to subscribers: “It’s 9pm, are you and your family safe under nets? This is Didier Drogba, sleep well.”
There’s been a 12% increase in net usage, 500,000 people are using nets who wouldn’t have otherwise.
OMM: What about tracking and verifying treatments?
Edlund: One of the significant challenges that we face is counterfeit, low quality and stolen drugs across Africa.
In Nigeria a large portion of anti-malarials are low quality or counterfeit. We partnered with Sproxil and the Nigerian government. The government mandated each anti-malarial would have a scratch off number and you would text in to see if it’s high quality and legitimate.
We’ve seen rapid uptake of this technology in Nigeria and we’re working with the government on patterns of stolen, low quality drugs. Not only can people make better choices, but the government can better combat low quality and counterfeit drugs.
OMM: Are you better able to contact locals on the ground, suppliers, donors thanks to mobile?
Edlund: It’s made virtually everyone accessible across (Africa) in ways you couldn’t a decade ago. You used to use the equivalent of town criers, now you instantly text message millions of users.
Cameroon just did a universal net campaign, they handed out vouchers with the distribution date on it.
They were supposed to use it to exchange for nets on a given day. The government wanted to let millions of people across the country know they changed the date, and worked with MTN, Orange to text message all of their subscribers across the country and give them updated information. This would’ve been impossible only a few years ago.
Another example: the end users, the clinics, many of which are rural, one of the challenges in the past was poor quality or slow information or feedback between suppliers and clinics. This led to stock gaps. Mothers would walk through the night with a fevered child and too often find the clinic didn’t have the medicine.
Novartis equipped rural clinics to report in real time the stock levels. With the new interface, in Tanzania, 26% of all clinics were stocked out of malaria drugs. 20 weeks later, less than 1% was stocked out. Simple programs built on mobile can entirely change the flow of life saving treatments.
OMM: What’s one thing about being a mobile first NGO that people may not know or consider?
Edlund: Mobile is causing people to rethink how we fight and ultimately eradicate disease. I think malaria will be a model of that. Since 2000, we’ve seen a 60% decline in global deaths from malaria. 6.2 million lives saved, 1.2 billion cases avoided in that time. We’ve turned the tide on this disease. Along with Bill Gates and our founder, Ray Chambers, we did a business plan for how to eradicate this disease.
It’s called from “Aspiration to Action” and calls for ending in 25 years one of the oldest, deadliest diseases known to mankind. Mobile makes that possible today to turn it into action that was not possible even five years ago.
OMM: What advice would you give other non-profits or folks looking to start one on how to best harness mobile technology to help a cause?
Edlund: We’ve found you’ve got to be working with the best local marketers and mobile actors. Scale matters and expertise matters.
OMM: You have done some interesting fund-raisers and events to raise your profile including working with mobile gaming and entertainment company Seriously and the planet’s biggest YouTube stars to raise awareness and money. How helpful has that been and anything on the horizon?
Edlund: The partnership with Seriously is a great example of how to use emerging platforms and technologies, the game is called Best Fiends. It’s enormously popular, part of that is the way they’ve marketed it. They’ve taken top YouTube stars and built charity into that platform. Without question, our partnership has been the biggest driver of new users to our site we’ve ever seen. It continues to be the biggest driver.
Best Fiends is built around insect characters and one is a mosquito named Edward. He’s a mosquito who feels guilty for so much sickness and death and harm in the world so he’s agreed to take on the fight vs malaria to redeem himself and fellow mosquitoes. There are a variety of ways to learn about malaria, we built a micro site to learn about the disease. It’s been hugely effective, especially among young users.
OMM: The Zika virus is grabbing headlines, it’s also transmitted by mosquitoes, are you taking it on as well or teaming up with others to battle both diseases?
Edlund: Zika underscores the dangers associated with mosquitoes. It’s a mosquito-born disease. We need a suite of technologies to protect ourselves and manage these mosquito-born diseases. There’s overlap in developing these technologiess to combat both of these diseases.