News & Events

Malaria No More CEO Martin Edlund spoke to Kellogg students at the 2014 Innovating Social Change Conference.

Malaria No More CEO Martin Edlund

Fighting malaria with mobile devices

Malaria No More CEO spoke on the private ventures helping tackle this public scourge

By Paul Dailing

10/31/2014 - Smallpox had inoculation. Polio had Jonas Salk.

Malaria No More CEO Martin Edlund made a bold prediction at Kellogg on Wednesday about what will take malaria off the board.

“Malaria is going to be the first disease beaten by mobile phones,” he said.

Speaking at the 2014 Innovating Social Change Conference, Edlund spoke on how technological innovations coming from the private sector are being used to fight social issues.

“For any big-scale, complex problem, human beings systematically underestimate the complexity and the cost of dealing with it,” Edlund said.

Disrupting boundaries

Malaria No More’s partnerships in the mobile space were part of why organizers approached Edlund, said ISC Speaker Co-Chair Natalie Bookey Baker ’15 said.

“We wanted a nonprofit that was doing innovative work and Malaria No More does a lot of that,” she said. “Hopefully, people saw the need to think outside the box to think about these larger problems.”

Edlund said information is key.

“Malaria has always thrived on misinformation,” Edlund said, citing that even the name is based on an outdated notion the disease was spread through bad (mal) air (aria).

Mobile phones are a growing opportunity to spread real information in Africa, which had 16 million cellphones in 2000 and expects to top 1 billion by next year.

Mobile services

Edlund’s talk highlighted public-private partnerships, including ones that use mobile data to track human migration and allow people to check to see if medicine bought at markets is genuine.

Here are a few of the ways Malaria No More is using mobile to fight malaria:
  • Malaria No More paired with African leaders and a major mobile provider for NightWatch, a series of nightly messages reminding people to make sure their family was sleeping under mosquito nets. Controlling for all other factors, people who received the texts were 12 percent more likely to sleep under nets, Edlund said.
  • A similar Malaria No More campaign saw clinics use mobile devices to report on their stock of anti-malaria drugs, so no one rushing to a clinic will find the cupboard bare.
  • Tablet gamers who play “Best Fiends,” released earlier this month by several of the minds behind “Angry Birds,” are rewarded with in-game currency if they visit a Malaria No More campaign page to learn about malaria prevention.
Despite great strides in fighting the disease, including a 54 percent reduction in child deaths since 2000, Edlund said the public and private sectors must continue working to get that rate down to zero.

“We are going to have to keep innovating to solve this problem,” Edlund said.

For further reading: