Text Messages Boost Malaria Recovery Rate

Text messages improved recovery rates in a Kenyan malaria treatment program, the latest initiative to show what impact mobile communications may have on the successful treatment of disease and chronic conditions.

Researchers sent SMS reminders to Kenyan health workers’ personal mobile phones twice a day for six month and discovered a 25 percent improvement rate over programs that did not use texts to help treat the disease. The varied messages were inspiring and informative, varying throughout the week, and aimed to keep malaria treatment at the forefront of medical practioners’ minds.

Vigilance is particularly crucial in treating malaria, as patients must complete a full dose of medication before they can be free of the disease. Failure to complete the course of treatment not only jeopardizes full recovery, but gives time for malaria parasites to adapt and become resistant to medication.

“Check all sick children <5yrs for any severe signs! Also check for fever, cough, diarrhoea, pallor & any other problem," read one message. "Quote: 'Persistent work triumphs'."

Because the messages represented an authoritative voice to workers, said Kenya's Ministry of Health, health care practitioners acted more quickly on their advice.

This study was one of the first to target texting and health care workers. Other experiments focused on how patients respond to mobile messaging regarding their medical conditions, especially as texting finds its place among health care treatment and maintenance.

In the U.S., health officials in Rhode Island are testing a program that sends text messages to help smokers quit, building on the findings of earlier studies suggesting the constant reminders texts offer can boost cessation programs’ success rates.

Text messaging even helps hospitals manage wait times in emergency rooms.

For Kenya and other African nations, the impact of incorporating SMS technology in health care may be huge, especially as mobile use skyrockets and handsets prove increasingly accessible. Eighty-six percent of Kenyans have access to mobile phone coverage, and 22 million citizens are mobile subscribers.

With texts costing around $0.01 in Kenya, the malaria treatment text program may work cheaply and effectively for more treatment centers, making an impact in a part of the world where the disease continues to take a toll on the population.

The study, published in The Lancet this week, was conducted by the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi.

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