Tackling malaria in India with Facebook’s Internet.org
Since our inception, one of the major pillars of Malaria No More’s work has been health education in malaria endemic countries. Malaria is a preventable, treatable disease that thrives on misinformation, so one of our most important strategies is to educate at-risk populations on how to protect themselves. Our “NightWatch” education programs can be found across Africa - in the classroom, on television, on the radio, on billboards and we can even reach individuals through SMS. But the one medium that has always proven a challenge in malaria endemic countries has been the one we utilize most often here in the US – the internet.
But today, that changes.
In partnership with Facebook and the Praekelt Foundation, Malaria No More is launching its first endemic country facing educational website in India as part of Facebook’s new Internet.org initiative. Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative and dedicated to making affordable internet access available to the two-thirds of the world not yet connected. On top of the infrastructure improvements Facebook is working on, it also offers the Internet.org app, which provides essential internet services for free to subscribers of partnered mobile network operators, such as Reliance in India.
Malaria No More on Internet.org
“Malaria No More is using every tool at our disposal to end this disease,” said Malaria No More CEO Martin Edlund. “Mobile is already a key to health education and data-driven innovation throughout the developing world; Internet.org brings the internet into play in a big way by expanding access for the people most at risk from malaria.”
It is in the word “free” that we have the biggest potential for success. The reason Malaria No More has not previously emphasized the internet in malaria endemic countries is not because of lack of technology, it’s because of lack of adoption of technology. In Africa, it is estimated that there will be one billion mobile phones by the end of 2015. Today, there are more than 930 million mobile phone subscriptions in India alone. With the mobile explosion in Africa and Asia, mobile web access is most certainly available, but unfortunately it’s prohibitively expensive - preventing online adoption from reaching its true potential. Through the Internet.org app, though, not only will important online services be available for free, but critical malaria-related information will be available to new internet users alongside basic internet staples such as weather information, news and Facebook. It’s a prime opportunity to educate at-risk populations en masse, and we cannot wait to see the results.
And what better way to increase reach then by starting with India: the world’s largest democracy, a country with the second biggest population on the planet, that ranks among the top 10 largest economies? With our educational site launching in a total of seven languages - including English, Hindi and five regional languages - we hope to be able to reach as much of the 89 percent of the Indian population living in areas with malaria prevalence as possible. In 2012, malaria in India accounted for an estimated 19 million new cases, 28,000 deaths, and cost approximately $3.4 billion in lost productivity and treatment costs. This effort is just a start, but our hope is to eventually take this disease, that has a significant impact on the health, well-being, and growth of India, off the map.
The Indian website will serve as a model for future sites as Internet.org expands across Africa and Asia, and will become an essential part of Malaria No More’s education strategy in at-risk countries.