Much has been made here, here and here as well as in other online publications about the use of technology and social media in Haiti. However, for the first time in a natural disaster, the Red Cross is using new technologies to help Haitians affected by the deadly Jan. 12 earthquake.
The Red Cross recently setup a free phone line for Haitians to call for updates, and receive important health information, such as measles campaigns. A SMS is also being sent out to more than 1.2 million Haitians on their mobile devices to inform them of this new service. The current SMS/health campaign will continue in the future and will eventually be used as a tool to offer information on HIV prevention, condom distribution locations as well as water and sanitation information.
International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) emergency health coordinator Panu Saaristo described the information line as a great step forward:
We are now able to disseminate information directly to beneficiaries and know they will receive and understand it. We know it works because people are turning up in Red Cross Red Crescent hospitals showing us the texts and asking to get vaccinated.
To get more information visit HERE.
The Red Cross information line follows another innovative move by the IFRC and Irish telecoms. This innovation, named Voila, is a SMS campaign that has delivered crucial health messages to 1.2 million phones. The campaign has already delivered more than 7 million text messages and is expected to run until the end of this week.
Another campaign with Red Cross and ComCel (Haiti’s national mobile phone company) ensured that ComCel subscribers were receiving important messages every day regarding health, shelter and sanitation to reduce their exposure to epidemics.
Dr. Richard Munz is the head of the health team working in Haiti:
The threat of epidemics is very real, even in the current dry season. This initiative allows us to do with the push of a button what would normally take an army of volunteers several days to do. This brings community mobilisation to a new dimension. It complements and perfectly reinforces more traditional methods like leafleting, using megaphones, town hall meetings, passing messages in the local market and so on, which has been the traditional Red Cross role.
More info can be found HERE.
Finally, here in Toronto, concerned citizens are also using technology as a tool to help raise funds for Red Cross efforts in Haiti. On Thursday, February 11, a group of innovative Twitter users will be hosting a fundraising event that has been primarily driven by Twitter. The event is being organized by a group of socially-conscience volunteers not otherwise associated with the Red Cross. It is being promoted and discussed on Twitter through the hashtag #HaiHaiTO.