As the world grapples with challenging humanitarian crises—from disease to poverty to natural disasters—the collection and use of data has never been more important. Governments, nonprofits, and private-sector companies are working together to develop accurate, informative data to identify new market innovations, to ensure accountability, and to improve health and save lives.
As an early innovator of the Long Lasting Insecticidal Net (LLINs), Vestergaard protects lives through the distribution of more than 50 million of its PermaNet®s annually. PermaNet®s reach an estimated30 million households worldwide per year, assuming an average of 1-2 nets per household. And while LLINs are credited with the largest success in preventing malaria, we know that to defeat malaria, we have to continue to innovate tools adaptable to this constantly evolving disease.
That’s why we’ve developed the SmartNet Initiative, a unique engagement program that gathers critical feedback from our PermaNet® users in the community while also providing information on how to protect themselves from malaria. We believe this type of community engagement will be instrumental in defeating malaria. We believe that through our SmartNet Initiative we can maximize usage and success by engaging the end user in helping to prevent malaria at the household and community level.
Research shows that 79% of the world’s population will have a smartphone by 2025 and 97% will be using a 3G connection or higher. This tremendous increase in access to mobile technology and the internet, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the malaria burden is greatest, provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to establish a two-way dialogue with net users. (Source: GSMA Mobile Economy Report 2018)
We conducted two early field tests in Kenya; one in 2018 involved the door- to- door distribution of 300 PermaNet®s in six counties. Printed instructions on the outside of the PermaNet® package asked users to use a short code to access a USSD survey consisting of 10 simple questions about their family’s net usage and malaria cases. All respondents in the 2018 survey, received a follow-up call after 90 days to reinforce the connection. In 2019, another 10,000 were distributed through health clinics in Kakamega that had printed call-in instructions in the package.
Household distribution yields ranged from 60-90% of people responding to the survey depending on incentives; with a response rate after a 90 days of between 34 to 44 percent, illustrating that a durable connection with end users can be achieved even after a period of silence. The routine LLIN clinic distribution of 10,000 nets to women attending antenatal clinics had instructions inside the package and yet yielded a smaller, significant response rate of 10 to 15%.
Given these promising but preliminary results, we’re currently piloting the SmartNet Initiative via a first large scale PermaNet®3.0distribution in Malawi in partnership with the United States President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the National Malaria Control Program. As part of the routine distribution of 300,000 LLINs, we are providing the option of using a 2G mobile phone or a smartphone mobile app to complete the SmartNet Initiative survey. Results are expected within six months.
Real-time, accurate information is critically needed in the fight to #Endmalaria. By connecting directly with users, Vestergaard is gathering precise details about net usage, as well as critical insights into PermaNet®s. The mobile technology maps the users’ responses in real time, helping people to better “see” what is happening around them with the goal of prevention, and where warranted, seeking health care services.
Collecting and analyzing this type of information through traditional field survey methods takes months if not years and is very expensive. By partnering with Dure Technologies, a firm with proven experience in creating software solutions to national disease control programs, we are developing and testing a mobile tech solution that will enable access to real-time citizen-sourced data for the community, the national program, donors and other people engaged in the fight to #Endmalaria.
Reuben Granich, MD MPH
Head of Health and Data Sciences