May 22, 2014
WATERLOO, ON - Malaria remains a major threat to global health. Worldwide, in 2012 there were an estimated 207 million cases of malaria. In Tanzania, approximately 100,000 deaths are attributed to malaria each year. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are among children under five. Pregnant women and young children bear by far the highest risk of dying from malaria. Long lasting insecticidal bed nets can assist in preventing malaria infections and save lives if they are accessed and utilized by the consumers who are at risk.
Since 2011, the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS) has used SMS text messaging with mobile phones to provide pregnant woman an electronic voucher that can be redeemed for a bed net at a participating retailer for a nominal fee (33 cents). Tanzania's approach to fighting malaria includes the private sector to ensure that bed nets are always available, unlike some nations.
The successful implementation of the TNVS has made a significant impact on malaria control in Tanzania, but gaps in coverage still exist and about 40% of women do not redeem the e-voucher. In their quest for more complete net coverage, researchers and others have been asking, why the gap? Do they have enough nets in the home? Did they misplace their e-voucher? Could they not even afford the modest price? Or don't they understand the protection a net offers?
Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty, is an implementing partner of the TNVS. With the help of a global health researcher at Queen's University, the organization wants to increase the efficiency of the distribution system, focus it more intensively in areas of high malaria risk and examine how the remarkable SMS-based delivery system could be applied to additional health threats of growing importance, such as hypertension.
MEDA and Dr. Karen Yeates of Queens University in Kingston, ON, have designed a cluster randomized trial that will test the effectiveness of a text message (SMS) dialogue with the women who are issued an e-voucher, sending them reminders to redeem their nets. The team will also collect data about usage and barriers, and investigate potential solutions.
This will not only indicate if SMS is an effective method to ensure redemption, but will also investigate why some women do not redeem their net voucher. Involving the end user will ultimately lead to better management and improve the electronic delivery method, reducing the burden of malaria for women and children.
"Africa's health challenges, like malaria and hypertension, are challenges too big for a government, or the private sector, to solve alone," notes Thom Dixon, Director Business of Health at MEDA. "With GCC's funding, this team can apply action-oriented market research skills that lead to more effective commercial bed-net delivery and promotion, so more households—particularly those with pregnant women and children—sleep safely under bed-nets. Moreover, GCC's funds will enable piloting of e-vouchers to fight hypertension, a growing threat in Africa."
"The innovation lies in the fact that we are putting the people most at risk, pregnant women, in the driver's seat, enabling them to help us create a better system, and to improve not only their lives but the lives of other people," says Dr. Karen Yeates of Queens University.
Grand Challenges Canada is awarding a $792,000 grant, supplementing funds by MEDA internal resources. Total financing secured by MEDA is $1.5 million.
For more information, please contact:
Linda Whitmore -
Jaclyn Stief -
About Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA)
MEDA is an international economic development organization whose mission is to create business solutions to poverty. Founded in 1953 by a group of Mennonite business professionals, we partner with the poor to start or grow small and medium-sized businesses in developing regions around the world. Our expertise includes a full range of economic development tools: financial services, improved technology, business training, better access to markets and equity investment. Our work most often focuses on women, youth and the rural poor. We believe that all people deserve the opportunity to earn a livelihood and that unleashing entrepreneurship is a powerful way to alleviate poverty.