At a time the cholera epidemic has claimed lives in Zimbabwe, information on prevention and treatment has become critical, hence the launch by UNICEF, of a free interactive mobile phone platform.
By John Mokwetsi
According to the World Health Organisation 45 people have died from the waterborne disease since last month.
In response to this, UNICEF Zimbabwe tasked its communication section to work towards informing the population on the disease, resulting in the launch of a free interactive cholera information hub.
According to UNICEF: “The hub allows any mobile network subscriber to SMS “cholera” to U-Report short code (33500) to receive cholera messages that we feel are critical at household level to mitigate against the disease.”
The U-Report, where the platform sits, is a free SMS social monitoring tool for community participation, designed to address issues that the population cares about. SMS polls and alerts are sent out to U-Reporters, and real-time response information is collected. Results and ideas are shared back with the community.
Issues polled include among others, health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, youth unemployment, HIV/AIDS, disease outbreaks; social welfare sectors.
Explaining further UNICEF said: “U-Report relies on volunteer community members serving as U-Reporters on a free entry, free exit basis to provide information on issues in their communities. U-Report allows citizens to speak-out on what is happening in their communities, provides a forum to amplify their voices through local and national media, sends alerts to key stakeholders about the issues their constituents are facing, and feeds back useful information to the U-Reporters, so they are empowered to work for change and improvements in their localities themselves.”
Titus Moetsabi, Communication for Development (C4D) specialist said he was satisfied with the role the information hub has helped in bringing the people to speed on vital information on Cholera adding that it was important to note that Zimbabwe has a mobile penetration rate of 100 percent.
Moetsabi said: “The use of SMS is important in that it cuts across all types of gadgets therefore our reach has been good. Zimbabwe has a very good mobile penetration rate, making a moving screen like a mobile phone a good information weapon to use. We need to develop information channels that help educate our people. Digital tools that are at our disposal must be utilised hence this information hub.”
UNICEF says: “More than 86,000 people have interacted with the U-Report Cholera Tutor since January 2018. Our metrics show that we have an average of 2.25 interactions per unique visitor which is impressive. An impact assessment survey was conducted on a sample size of 27,000 U-Reporters who accessed the Tutor and the results of the assessment show 90 percent found ALL the U-Report information useful and SMS/U-Report was the sole source of Cholera lifesaving information for 44 percent.
“96 percent of U-Reporters that engaged the tutor shared the information with others and of that 56 percent shared with at least 10 people.
Moetsabi said: “U-Reporters and the C4D team are using this information to increase and empower volunteers in the ongoing cholera affected areas.”