Save a life with a text!


My exploration into short messaging campaigns was quite fruitful this week. I had a fairly limited experience with short messaging campaigns before, however I am not surprised that they are very successful for public health campaigns – phones are relatively cheap and ubiquitous in most communities around the world (even third world), they disseminate information immediately and in short and succinct language that is easily processed. I thought I would review a great campaign I came across as well as a less than effective use of short messaging.

“Parent’s love me” vs Wireless Emergency Alerts…


In my exploration I discovered a Tanzanian text messaging campaign for healthy mothers and babies. The campaign is called Wazazi Nipendeni (“parent’s love me”) and aims to reduce the infant and maternal mortality by three quarters from 2008 to 2015. Participants register by texting a listing code and indicate how many months pregnant they are. They then go on to receive free text information that is really relevant to them; information about health care partners, education on prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission and malaria, antenatal care, signs to look out/warning signs and post-partum care. The campaign has become incredibly popular, with more than 7000 new registrants each week, and over 125,000 active users by 2013.


WEAWEA phoneI became exposed to Wireless Emergency Alerts (WAE) announcements while living in SF, California.They are alerts delivered to your phone to aid public safety and awareness, and are produced by federal government agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). So this sounds great yes?! Receiving emergency related information direct to your phone!? However this was a function that is automatically enabled in many phone carriers and appeared to be state specific, and hence didn’t require my registration (or even my knowledge that this was a function). So in theory – yes! I think this has great potential and importance. However as it was, it became an intrusive and irritating feature. It appeared to be state wide (California is a BIG state) and I would receive not a message, but a loud sounding alarm every time a child was abducted in Los Angeles, which was routinely at 2am. It became so intrusive and for the most part irrelevant, that I went through my phone and worked out how to disable this function.


In summary to make a great and effective mobile device, short messaging campaign it needs to be relevant and helpful. Ensuring your campaign is location specific is a key factor to be relevant and have impact. It is also probably more effective in text message format, as this is a more engaging and less provocative mode.


3 thoughts on “Save a life with a text!

  1. Nice post Chloe! I love your pictures. What a great campaign that you mentioned! I like the compare/contrast with this and the emergency alerts- these should definitely be area specific and not going off at 2am when you’re hundreds of miles away. How would you use these emergency alerts to be more relevant? I guess if the 2am wake up call did lead to the child being found it wouldn’t be.. but his is unlikely.
    Great post!! 🙂

  2. A very interesting blog post Chloe. I can sympathize with your frustration about receiving texts in the wee hours of the morning especially if it is something that does not directly affect you. This is a great example of how texting alerts can be abused/ineffective, as you eventually found a way to disable the service altogether. To echo Melissa’s question, what would make these alerts more relevant to you? Is there a way to specify particular receiving times, alert types (i.e. environmental alerts versus criminal alerts), location, and frequency?

    On a somewhat tangential topic, when I visited Tanzania, I noticed how everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, had a cell phone. Whether we were on Mt. Kilimanjaro or in the African plains, all the locals seemed to have excellent cell coverage and were always communicating with friends and family. Having this kind of cell phone penetration is remarkable and goes to show how effective a text message campaign, such as the example you discovered, can be.

  3. I would have to echo your issues with the emergency text alerts. Phoenix, AZ during the summer months has the monsoons and somewhat erratic weather patterns with sandstorms and flash floods which can come one immediately. The emergency alerts go off and off and off about these things. While technically these are relevant to me (being that they are pertaining to Phoenix storm and road conditions), it became more of an alarm for potential coming rain. Hardly ever does it evert a disaster brewing.

    Also, the number of messaging systems geared towards moms and their babies is quite numerous. The accessibility is incredible and all the points you make regarding the utility of cell messages are very pertinent. I do wonder why cell service became so ubiquitous compared to TV or radio service . . . very interesting.

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