Mobile phones help treat malaria

Mobile phones are playing an important role in remote rural areas by helping the speedy diagnosis and treatment of malaria, a recent study in Bangladesh showed.

The study analyzed 1,000 phone calls made to report suspected malaria cases in Chittagong Hill Tracts in the last two years, according to a report on SciDev.net.

"The researchers found that phone calls, which were made to locally recruited field workers or one of the members of the study team and then followed up by visits, were a useful way to detect and treat the disease in this community," it said.

But the mobile phones would have to be complemented by local knowledge and field support for effective treatment.

Chittagong Hill Tracts, a hilly and forested part of the country bordering Mynamar, has Bangladesh’s highest malaria rates, the report noted.

Wasif Ali Khan, lead author of the study and a researcher at the icddr,b told SciDev.Net they also found that the proportion of confirmed malaria cases reported by mobile phones was higher in the most remote areas with no access to roads.

Khan added the use of mobile phone technology has the potential to build awareness of malaria through community participation.

"The use of mobile phones made our work very easy and diagnosis of the cases was also faster as we could reach the infected patients much quicker due to faster communications," said Jacob Khyang, an icddr,b manager of the field research in Bandarban within the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Published in Malaria Journal last Feb. 4, the study was part of a wider project on malaria epidemiology by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) and the US-based Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.

Researchers in the study said that while people can report suspected malaria to field workers, a slightly greater number of suspected cases were reported using mobile phones.

This led the researchers to conclude that the use of mobiles had helped to increase the number of potential cases tested and treated.

Faster diagnosis and treatment may help to lessen people's reliance on local medicine men or drug vendors, thus reducing the risk of incorrect results and inappropriate treatment — and the threat of drug resistance, the study said.

Access to phones

Researchers also said access to and use of mobile phones has "increased dramatically" in the area, as it has done in many remote areas of developing countries.

But people in the study area often had to borrow phones or climb hills to get a signal needed to make calls, due to limited mobile phone network coverage.

Also, only about a fifth of households owned at least one mobile phone, the study showed.

On the other hand, the study said technology alone is not enough and has to be paired with "on-the-ground knowledge of the area and the people."

Positive outlook

SciDev.Net said many mobile phone users in the region were positive about future healthcare delivery programs to tackle malaria.

"All the 15 cases detected in our area were reported by mobile phone. What else can you expect in such remote, hilly areas?" said Pai Mong U, a resident of one neighborhood of the Kuhalong area of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

He added residents received proper treatment thanks to the use of mobile phones and the icddr,b team. — TJD, GMA News

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