Text messages help combat cholera in Mozambique

Updated 22 February 2013
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Text messages help combat cholera in Mozambique

As Mozambique struggles to recover from the worst flooding in more than a decade, aid agencies are pioneering the use of cell phones to distribute aid and, they hope, cut the cost of logistics in disaster zones.
Mozambican flood refugee Rose Makavela’s cell phone beeps. A text message confirms she can get a free bottle of chlorine at a roadside stall near her refugee camp to prevent cholera.
Shopkeeper Delsio checks a matching message on his own phone, then hands her the chemical — one of 150 bottles he’s given away in only two weeks.
“It’s easy. Even a child can use it,” he said, happy about the small commission he earns through the cell phone-based system.
Just one drop of chlorine purifies water for drinking, killing the cholera bacteria and other water-borne diseases.
The mobile initiative is the latest “e-health” tactic to get aid to flood victims in the southern African nation, hit by the worst deluge in over a decade.
Mobile phones have been used during humanitarian crises such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to track and co-ordinate relief efforts.
But using text messages to distribute products is new and its developers are trying to insert this into the traditional, large-scale emergency response.
The heaviest floods since 2000 have killed more than 100 people and affected around 250,000, washing away roads, hospitals and houses in the south.
Close to 70,000 people are living in tented camps.
After the Limpopo River flooded parts of southern city Xai-Xai late January, US-based health NGO Population Services International (PSI) decided to test their mobile concept.
They broadcast television and radio adverts that encouraged people to send a free text message and receive chlorine from local stores in return.
Around 300 people have been infected in a cholera outbreak in the far north caused by drinking unpurified water. Symptoms include chronic diarrhea and vomiting. In extreme cases it can kill.
Residents are so afraid of the disease they have attacked local officials and health workers whom they believe contaminate the water.
Two people died in such clashes since January, according to local media.
Now humanitarian organizations in the southern province of Gaza are anxious to prevent the deadly disease.
“Sanitation conditions in Gaza are still very precarious hence there must be maximum alert for identifying potential water-borne diseases,” said Emanuele Capobianco, health specialist for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“If someone catches cholera here, it can spread throughout the town. We are making sure the whole city is prepared at least,” said PSI community worker Alfredo Baltazar.
Just weeks ago, a massive wall of water swept through the area. Now, in the stifling heat, there is not enough drinking water. And incidence of disease are becoming more frequent.
“People are getting diarrhea. They took a woman away this morning who had it. She was vomiting,” said flood survivor Custodia Quive, who was queuing for water.
Most donor money in an emergency goes into massive supply chains that are often inefficient and wasteful, said PSI country director Iulian Circo.
“If you are in an environment where the links to the supply chain have been cut because the roads have broken or where there is no shop, there you have to come up with alternative ways,” he said.
“Doing SMS distribution in some areas saves you time and resources and you can do the traditional distribution elsewhere,” he adds. Although Mozambique is still one of the world’s poorest countries, cell phone usage is growing and at least three out of 10 people own one.
People fleeing the rising waters took only what they could carry — and usually that included a cell phone.
Roving vendors sell call credit in the camps and for $ 0.03 phones can be recharged at one of the roadside stores that have mushroomed outside the camp.
The “business logic” makes the simple technology work, Circo said.
“We make local shops partners in emergency response. They benefit from responding to the emergency and give us the strength that we don’t have — they have penetration in the community.”
Health campaigns work when people take initiative too and do not just rely on NGOs, said community worker Baltazar.
“From the moment the person himself takes his phone, sends an SMS, receives a code and goes to collect, he will value it,” he said.
Floods occur every few years in Mozambique’s vast low-lying river basins. Harnessing this informal trade could be key to the emergency response next time around.
“You can recruit a whole army of informal tradespeople. You don’t even worry about the shop,” said Circo.
“In October you stock up. You can create a hub before the emergency because it is predictable.”


Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

Ta’ateemah includes a variety of dishes such as dibyazah, red mish, chicken and lamb stew and bread. File/Getty Images
Updated 19 June 2018
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Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

  • Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread
  • The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it

JEDDAH: Ta’ateemah is the name of the breakfast feast Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word, itmah, or darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to feast after fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. But it is called Al-Fitr from iftar, or breakfast when translated to English, which is a meal Muslims do not get to experience during that month.
The first day of Eid is a day where they finally can, and they greet the day with joy by heading to Eid prayers and then enjoying this traditional meal.
Amal Turkistani, mother of five from Makkah who now lives in Jeddah, told Arab News all about a special Eid dish.
“The most famous dish is the dibyaza, and making a dish of it is a work of art that I can proudly say I excel at. Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.”
She revealed that dibyaza is not a quick meal — it is usually prepared a day or two before Eid with the ingredients simmered to reach the correct liquid thickness.
No one can trace the origins of dibyaza — it remains a mystery. Some people claim it originated in Turkey, while others attribute it to the Indians.
A number of women who are famous for their dibyaza agreed that it is a Makkawi dish. This marmalade dish was developed and improved, with tiny details to distinguish it.
The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it.
Turkistani said sweet shops sell 1 kg of dibyaza for SR50 ($13), competing with housewives who make their own.

 

“I think it is always tastier when it’s homemade because of all the love that goes into making it. It’s also a wonderful way to greet your family and neighbors with this special dish that you only enjoy once a year.”
Her younger sister, Fatin, said: “My siblings always have Eid breakfast at my place, so it’s up to me to prepare the feast. My sister spares me the exhausting dibyaza-making, so I prepare two main dishes: Minazalla, which is a stew of lamb chops with tahini and a tomato chicken stew.
“She also serves what we call nawashif, or dry food, like different types of cheese and olives, pickled lemon, labneh, red mish — a mixture of white cheese, yogurt and chili pepper and halwa tahini,” Amal said.
Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, from Makkah, told Arab News: “It always feels unique to have minazalla and nawashif during Eid, and not just because it is followed by the Eidiyah.”

Decoder

What is Eidiyah?

It is money elders in the family give to the youth to celebrate Eid and to congratulate them on completing Ramadan fasting.