Text message reminders prove effective at tackling malaria

SMS messages reminding people to take their malaria medication could help fight the disease, a new study by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and Harvard University suggests.

Malaria is a difficult disease to tackle, as many drugs that once worked no longer do because it has become resistant. Only one form of treatment remains effective and accessible, known as artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). Julia Raifman, who co-authored the study, said that the disease can even become resistant to this treatment if the course isn’t completed.

“Even in the US, studies show that about half of people don’t adhere to their medications – it’s easy to forget, or to think you’ve beaten the disease because you feel better,” she explained. “We’ve already begun to see resistance to artemisinin in Southeast Asia. It would be catastrophic if that became widespread and there was no effective treatment for the most deadly form of malaria.”

The researchers decided to trial the inexpensive option of simply sending everyone text reminders, so they know exactly when they need to take their medication. More than 1,100 people enrolled in an automated mobile notification system; half received the reminders, the others did not. A few days later, staff checked up on all the participants to see if they’ve kept on-top of their medication or not, reports firstpost.com.

It was quickly realised that participants who received the SMS messages were far more likely to complete their treatment compared to those who weren’t sent any reminders. The researchers also discovered that shorter messages worked much better than longer, more informative texts, reports nymag.com.