Text messages on the front line of Ebola care

An SMS service is set to be introduced in West Africa in order to help identify new outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus.

The text message service would enable people to report their symptoms by texting a single word, such as ‘fever’ or ‘cough’, and then receive a message directing them to the nearest treatment facility. Not only that, but the data collected from these texts could help identify disease hot spots at a very early stage.

The man behind the service is Dr Mohamad-Ali Trad, an Australian who has worked for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in conflict zones such as Haiti, Syria, Somalia and Sudan.

“During my missions with Médecins Sans Frontières I have always noticed that no matter how distressed the populations we served, someone always had a mobile phone,” he told wired.co.uk. “We did some research and actually found out that most areas traditionally considered under-resourced do have mobile phone coverage.”

People who text their symptoms could be mapped, enabling medical care to reach them if there is no treatment centre nearby.

SMS has already been used during the Ebola crisis. In April, texts were sent to raise awareness of symptoms and protective measures as the disease began to spread out of Guinea to surrounding countries.

Since speaking to wired.co.uk, Trad and fellow scientists have delivered their proposal and request for funding to the World Health Authority, uk.news.yahoo.com reports. If successful, the SMS service can begin helping sufferers immediately.