Harnessing the power of social media for malaria in Southeast Asia

Published: 25 April 2014 10:42 CET

By Kate Roux and Becky Webb, IFRC

Malaria affects an estimated 207 million people worldwide and kills up to 627,000 each year. While the majority of cases are in the Africa, the region of South-East Asia accounts for around 15 per cent of cases. In recent years, National Red Cross Societies in the Mekong-sub region of Southeast Asia have been supporting national governments and health authorities in responding to threats of malaria. This work is only expected to increase given the continuous seasonal outbreaks and flooding.

Social media can be a valuable ally when it comes to reaching communities with health messages.

Social media is fundamentally changing how the region communicates. Asia Pacific is home to 50 per cent of the world’s social media users and 102 million new internet users; the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are in the top 15 of the fastest growing countries using Facebook over recent years.

In 2013, the Norwegian Red Cross together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) South-East Asia regional delegation supported  the Red Cross of Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam for malaria prevention activities, with a specific focus on using social media to reach further and increase awareness.

A number of National Societies in the region have already made significant advances in harnessing the power of social media, with many using mobile and web-based technologies to improve communications and interactions with the communities they serve. At the same time, there is also a gap in these advances, often due to lack of connectivity in rural areas even with increased rates of mobile penetration. As a result, countries such as Cambodia, Laos and VietNam are embracing social media at a different pace to their Southeast Asian neighbors.

The changing communications landscape, and the rise of social media, has the potential to transform humanitarian operations. By learning and engaging with these platforms, National Societies can deliver integrated, sophisticated communications campaigns which reach more people, more quickly and more cost effectively.

Case study