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Texting can help Combat Malaria

Update Date: Oct 28, 2014 02:09 PM EDT

Even though malaria, a mosquito-borne illness that is caused by a parasite, has been eradicated in developed countries, the disease is still killing more than 600,000 people, with 91 percent of them being from Africa, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In order to reduce the mortality rate, a new study is reporting that something as simple as texting reminders can be effective.

The research team from 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 (artemisinin-based combination therapies).

Researcher Julia Raifman explained, "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."

Raifman and her colleagues worked with the IPA research staff based in Ghana and recruited more than 1,100 participants who were on Malaria treatment. The participants were enrolled in an automated messaging system. Half of them received a text that reminded them to take their medications while the remaining half did not.

After following-up on the participants a few days later, the researchers found that the participants who received text reminders were more likely than those who did not receive texts to have finished their full medication regimen.

"SMS reminders are a 'nudge,' not a 'shove,'" commented Aaron Dibner-Dunlap, an IPA research, according to the press 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."

The study was published in the journal, PLOS ONE.

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