NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nashville-based United Methodist Communications is using text-messaging technology created for use in developing nations to help spread the word about Ebola prevention in West Africa, where disinformation and superstition run rampant.
“In the Ebola crisis, communication precedes prevention and treatment,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. “The United Methodist Church is in place in both nations and giving aid; but, in order to stop the spread of the disease, communication about the reality of the Ebola virus, sanitation, isolation of sick people, and proper handling of the deceased is critical. In these circumstances, a clear message saves lives.”
Messages are sent daily via a cloud-based text-messaging service, Frontline SMS, and include prevention tips and spiritual encouragement. The messages are signed by area bishops and are intended to be shared with and forwarded to local residents. In Sierra Leone, 67 percent of people have cell phones; in Liberia, it is 69 percent.
In addition to text-messaging services, UMC is also broadcasting prevention messaging over radio networks in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and has given $10,000 grants to both countries to help with other communication-related needs, including the creation and distribution of banners, posters and photocopies of messages that aid in prevention, diagnosis and treatment; messaging for radio to address prevention, care and pastoral needs; and Internet access.
The text-messaging and communications initiatives are led by United Methodist Communications’ Information and Communications Technologies for Development team, whose other efforts have included providing solar-powered computers in Haiti and restoring mobile and radio networks after the 2013 Philippines typhoon.
The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund where individuals can donate to provide communications support in crises and disasters, such as this outbreak.
For more information about the United Methodist response to Ebola, visit umc.org/ebola.