Could Text Messaging Help Stop Malaria?

First Posted: Oct 29, 2014 01:30 AM EDT

Texting may actually help combat Malaria, according to recent findings published in the journal PLOS ONE. Researchers found that a mosquito-borne illnesses that's caused by a parasite and has killed more than 600,000 people, 91 percent in Africa, could be reduced by texting reminders regarding medications.

Researchers at the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a non-profit organization and Harvard University, reported that one of the major issues with combating malaria is getting patients to finish their medications-otherwise known as artemisinin-based combination therapies.

"When patients don't complete their full medication regimen, diseases can develop resistance to treatment. And with infectious diseases like malaria, drug resistant diseases can spread to others. Even in the United States, 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. 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."

For the study, researchers examined more than 1,100 participants who were receiving Malaria treatment. All participants were also enrolled in a automated messaging system and received a text that reminded them when to take their medications.

After following-up on the participants a few days later, they discovered that those who received text reminders were more likely than others who did not receive them to finish their medication regimen.
"SMS reminders are a 'nudge,' not a 'shove,'" said Aaron Dibner-Dunlap, an IPA research, in a news release. "They can help people follow through on something they originally intended to do, but human nature is tricky and the science is still young. We're optimistic because the technology has become so widespread and inexpensive to administer, that for programs like this one that work, there's huge potential for helping people at very low cost."

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