This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

MEDA uses mobile phones to fight malaria in Tanzania

WATERLOO, Ont. — Mennonite Economic Development Associates is working with a partner in Tanzania to combat malaria with mobile phone vouchers.

Since 2011, the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme has used text messaging with cell phones to send pregnant women a voucher redeemable for an insecticidal bed net at a participating retailer for 33 cents.

MEDA, an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty, is an implementing partner of the TNVS.

In Tanzania, about 100,000 deaths are attributed to malaria each year. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are among children under 5. Pregnant women and young children bear by far the highest risk of dying from malaria.

Bed nets can assist in preventing malaria infections and save lives if they are accessed and used by those at risk.

The successful implementation of the TNVS has made a significant impact on malaria control in Tanzania. But gaps in coverage still exist, and about 40 percent of women do not redeem the e-voucher.

In their quest for more complete net coverage, researchers want to know why. Do they have enough nets in the home? Did they misplace their e-voucher? Could they not afford the modest price? Or don’t they understand the protection a net offers?

With the help of global health researcher Karen Yeates of Queens University in Kingston, Ont., MEDA wants to increase the efficiency of the distribution system, focus it more in areas of high malaria risk and examine how the text-based delivery system could be applied to additional health threats of growing importance, such as hypertension.

MEDA and Yeats designed a trial to test the effectiveness of text dialogues with those issued vouchers, sending reminders to redeem their nets. They will collect data on usage and barriers and investigate solutions.

Grand Challenges Canada is awarding a $792,000 grant, supplementing funds by MEDA internal resources. Total financing secured by MEDA is $1.5 million.

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