SMS and mobile technology in general have come to the rescue once again in Haiti as a Cholera outbreak plagues the nation. Though information resources are far and few between, nearly 80% of the population has access to a mobile phone — making mobile an informational lifeline.
Local cellular networks are sending out free text messages to people in affected areas, giving them tips on how to avoid infection, telling them what symptoms to look for and other vital real-time information. The texts go out in Creole and specifically target people in trouble areas and in tent camps, where the disease could spread rapidly. So far, the outbreak has killed over 300 people and made nearly 4,500 sick. The problem has been multiplied since the massive earthquake in January left more than 1.3M people living in tent camps or on the street. SMS provided a lifeline in the form of real-time information and donations from around the world during that event as well.
The Red Cross last week set up a program to send Creole text messages twice a day to 300,000 people in internal refugee camps and to 35,000 people near the Artibonite River, which is thought to be a source of the cholera outbreak. Cell phones also are being used to track the potential trajectory of cholera. Haitian mobile provider Digicel is using data it collects about where mobile phone users are located to see where people who have visited cholera-affected areas of Haiti go after they visit those troubled regions. The data can then be used to see where the disease might head next.