Using technology to save lives in Sierra Leone

Published: 15 April 2013

April 15th 2013, Sierra Leone: The telecommunications industry and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have teamed up to use mobile phone technology to save lives in Sierra Leone.

Using an innovative location-targeted SMS system called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA), the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society (SLRCS), with support from the British and Icelandic Red Cross Societies, will be able to reach 36,000 people an hour at the touch of a button with warnings of impending fires, floods, or outbreaks of disease.

Sierra Leone is only the second country in the world to launch the TERA SMS system, where it is being delivered in partnership with the country’s largest mobile operator Airtel. The project has been given the full backing of the country’s Vice President, Office of National Security and Ministry of Health and Sanitation.

Sierra Leone’s Vice President, Chief Samuel Sam Sumana, explains: “Last year our country was hit by the worst cholera outbreak in 40 years. Simple information could have helped prevent some of the 300 deaths we suffered. We know Sierra Leone has a poor health record and the government is committed to doing something about that. Working with the Sierra Leone Red Cross, Airtel, Comium and SierraTel, we can make sure people are armed with the knowledge and tools they need to protect themselves and their families.”

Launching in April, the Red Cross and Airtel aim to reach 1 million people nation-wide in its first month with life-saving information on preventing malaria ahead of World Malaria Day on April 25th. Approximately 16,000 children and adults die from malaria each year in Sierra Leone, making it the country’s largest preventable cause of death. A year of monthly prevention campaigns has been planned covering everything from cholera, tuberculosis and child health information to flood and fire prevention advice.

“This system is a real life-saver,” says Abubakarr Tarawallie, director of communications, SLRCS. “We can use it to warn people when emergencies or outbreaks start and to give them vital information on preventing diseases like malaria and cholera. Even better, the system is two-way so we can quickly assess the areas of greatest need after an emergency and respond to requests for information on a large-scale. Harnessing technology in this way is really helping the Red Cross to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our aid operations.”

Airtel’s managing director RVS Bhullar adds: “No other disaster warning system is capable of reaching such large numbers of people in such a short space of time and in such a direct, personal way as SMS. Airtel is delighted to be part of this project and to put our network to good use working with the Red Cross and the government to have a real positive impact on our customers’ health and well being.”

Two additional mobile operators – Comium and SierraTel - have also agreed to issue SMS on behalf of the Sierra Leone Red Cross, increasing the number of people reached to 1.5 million.

TERA was first developed in response to the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake by the local mobile operator Trilogy International Partners. Since then, more than 100 million SMS have been sent covering a wide range of topics. In a 2011 evaluation, 95 per cent of those interviewed said Red Cross SMS provided them with practical and useful information, and 90 per cent reported changing something in their life as a result of these SMS. The IFRC is now aiming to launch TERA in 40 countries within the next five years, with regional hubs capable of sending out disaster warnings to millions of people.

Note to editors

  • Airtel has approximately 1.2 million subscribers in Sierra Leone.
  • Approximately 70 per cent of Sierra Leoneans have access to a mobile phone and this number is growing each year in line with the rest of the developing world.
  • Sierra Leone suffers extreme poverty with one of the poorest health records in West Africa. Life expectancy is just 50 years old, 18 years below the global average. Child and maternal mortality rates are amongst the worst in the world. The country suffers from epidemic outbreaks of preventable diseases including yellow fever, cholera, lassa fever and meningitis.
  • Sierra Leone experiences more than 20 natural disasters annually, including floods, landslides and bushfires, affecting an average of 7,500 people each year through loss of life, homes, crops or livelihoods.
  • Sierra Leone suffered a ten-year brutal civil war which ended in 2002 and the country is only now beginning to recover. In 2012, the country suffered its worst cholera outbreak since records began, killing nearly 300 people and affecting 23,200 people (as of Feb 06 2013).
  • The first SMS campaign will focus on malaria prevention and include the following messages:



Day 1

Red Cross/MOHS: Mosquito bites can give you malaria. There are more mosquitos in rainy season, so we’ll send you advice to prevent malaria

Day 2

RedCross/MOHS: Prevent malaria by sleeping under insecticide-treated bednet, wear clothes that cover arms and legs evening and early morning

Day 3

Red Cross/MOHS: Don’t let your house or compound get dirty. Clear pools of standing water. This stops mosquitos breeding near your home

Day 4

Red Cross/MOHS: Malaria causes fever, headache, chills, vomiting. Go quick to the nearest govt health clinic for free tests and treatment

Day 5

Red Cross/MOHS: Malaria is more dangerous for pregnant women and children under 5, but they can get treated free at all govt clinics

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest volunteer-based humanitarian network, reaching 150 mil­lion people each year through its 187 member National Societies. Together, the IFRC acts before, during and after disasters and health emergencies to meet the needs and improve the lives of vulnerable people. It does so with impartiality as to nationality, race, gender, religious beliefs, class and political opinions.
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For further information and to set up interviews contact:

In Sierra Leone

Sharon Reader, TERA project manager, IFRC,

Mobile: + 232 7856 0321 / +44 7725 205 494 – E-mail:

In Addis Ababa:

  • Katherine Mueller, communications manager, IFRC Africa

Mobile: +251 930 03 3413 – E-mail :

In Geneva:

  • Jessica Sallabank, media relations officer, IFRC

Mobile: +41 799 481 148 – E-mail :