Fighting Covid-19 AND malaria
Viamo 3-2-1 Service in Mali
The Covid-19 lockdown has made it difficult to reach people face-to-face with health information. Supported by the Bayer Foundation, the ARCTEC team at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is now organizing a mobile messaging service in Mali to help fight Covid-19 whilst also preventing a rise in malaria cases.
Malaria is still the main cause of death in Mali, however in the past 15 years the country has made significant progress in their fight against the disease. This success is now in danger of being wiped out. As Covid-19 spreads, many public resources are re-directed towards tackling Covid-19, while other areas – such as protection against mosquito borne diseases – are neglected. “This makes it more important than ever to empower Malians to look after themselves,” says Professor James Logan, Head of the Department of Disease Control at LSHTM and Director of ARCTEC. In a project funded by a consortium including Bayer, ARCTEC uses an existing platform for public service information in Mali. The platform is accessible through a mobile phone, to communicate relevant health messages that enable people to make educated decisions about their own safety.
The content of the audio messaging is motivational, explains Professor Logan: “Our research shows that a healthy home and a healthy family are powerful messages. We do not talk about Covid-19 here, and about malaria there. We focus on hygiene and wrap our messages into one package of advice and guidance to keep people safe. And this package says: ‘Beware of Covid- 19 AND malaria to keep your home and your family healthy and happy’.”
Professor Logan’s team offers the content as recorded mobile messages, approved by the Mali Ministry of Health to ensure the advice aligns with government recommendations. Released during the malaria season in July, the information will educate people about hygiene measures such as washing hands, sanitation, and the use of bed nets. Working with behavior change experts has allowed the messages to be tailored to the culture and traditions of Malians to ensure that people will relate and react to them. The messages are recorded by native speakers in several local Malian languages.
The technical platform for this service is provided by Viamo, a global social enterprise for mobile solutions, working in 25 countries in Africa and Asia. Under their toll-free number ‘3-2-1’, Viamo’s well-established helpline service receives over seven million calls a month in Mali alone. After dialing the number, people can select from an audio menu – simply by pressing a button. Enriched by ARCTEC’s messages, the menu in Mali now offers information on vector control, personal hygiene, and Covid-19.
Beware of Covid-19 AND malaria to keep your home and your family healthy and happy
For more information check out an interview with Professor Logan: He shares how LSHTM will evaluate the impact of this pilot project, how it can be applied to different scenarios in the future, and how Covid-19 can be a hinge of history.
Project lead Professor James Logan (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
New messages on the ‘3-2-1’ phone service will help the people in Mali to access information on Covid-19 and malaria. In an interview, project lead Professor James Logan (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) talks about the new Bayer-funded concept and Covid-19’s potential impact on global health.
Professor Logan, in pre-lockdown times, your teams used to go out and promote new healthcare behavior locally and in face-to-face situations. How do you feel about going digital?
Around the globe, Covid-19 has changed the way we work for all of us. This project in Mali is a new way of doing what we normally do. And that is exciting. We have never done something like it. We will learn from this pilot and leverage the insights to launch similar projects in the future – in other countries and to fight other diseases, such as Dengue or Zika.
How will you measure and evaluate the impact of the messages on the ‘3-2-1’ service?
We track the progress by asking questions. When people dial the ‘3-2-1’ number, we push a voice message asking them to take a moment to answer our questions. By doing this, we establish a knowledge base on people’s awareness of what they can do to prevent malaria & Covid-19, and to enhance personal hygiene. We record their answers and identify the changes over time so we know exactly how the service is.
Where do you stand in terms of funding the project?
The funding from Bayer will last 12 months. That is a long time. You can do a very impactful program in 12 months. In the future, I hope to gain more sponsors so that we can expand the program not only to other countries and diseases, but also to other groups of people: in Mali we are targeting members of the public; in future we could build health worker capacity in this way. It can be a springboard for stepping up our sustainability drive. And once we can prove its effectiveness, it will become easier to raise the necessary funds.
James Logan, project lead and Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine: “We feel passionate about educating people”
Did the Coronavirus pandemic come as a surprise to you?
No. I knew that something like coronavirus was going to happen at some point, but what surprised me was how unprepared the world was for it. And this is relevant for our institute. We feel passionate about educating people – making the public aware of pandemic and health issues. Preparedness is important. The world needs to be better informed on public health and there is no better chance than now.
What makes this moment such a hinge of history?
Every person on the planet is interested in health in this moment. There has never been such a desire to know more about health issues. We must take this opportunity – to educate and to prepare, but also to inspire the next generation of scientists. I hope to do that with Bayer. Their values are aligned with ours and together we can make an impact.
*Photo Credits: https://viamo.io/