A potential Ebola outbreak in Senegal was snuffed out thanks in part to an innovative text-messaging program originally intended to help patients with diabetes manage their disease.

The country’s first and only Ebola case was confirmed on August 29, 2014, after an individual had direct contact with an Ebola patient in Guinea and then travelled to Dakar. With aid from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Government of Senegal initiated a coordinated broad-based response that stopped the virus before it spread any further.

Part of that response included a massive public awareness campaign in which the country’s Ministry of Health sent 4 million SMS warnings to the public regarding the dangers of Ebola and how to prevent its spread. The campaign was driven by the WHO-supported mDiabetes platform, which targets those living in heavily populated regions of the country.

“This SMS campaign was part of a much larger national project in Senegal focused on awareness, prevention, and care for people with Ebola,” Ministry of Health project leader Mbayange Ndiaye Niang, MD, said in a press release.

Senegal also implemented other initiatives to raise awareness, including radio announcements, flyers, and a government-hosted website encouraging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid contact with people who are sick or have died from Ebola, and not touch or eat the meat of dead or sick monkeys, rats, warthogs, porcupines, or pork.

The program was rolled out quickly to fight the Ebola threat thanks to the existing mDiabetes platform, which was launched in June 2014. By registering with the program, Senegal’s diabetic patient association and health care professionals receive free tips on how to avoid complications triggered by fasting and feasting.

“Diabetes is a growing global problem, particularly in the developing world,” said Etienne Krug, MD, WHO director of management of noncommunicable diseases. “More than 80% of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Innovative technology platforms like mDiabetes can play a vital role in spreading simple prevention messages to a wide audience, such as the importance of a healthy diet and physical exercise.”

When Ebola hit Senegal in late August, the Ministry of Health utilized the platform to share text messages on a large scale. The program highlights the various measures that nations can utilize to attack public health emergencies before they become an epidemic.

"This is an excellent example of collaboration across 2 disease programs—1 focused on Ebola, the other on diabetes—which are typically considered incompatible with each other,” said Douglas Bettcher, MD, WHO director of prevention of noncommunicable diseases, in a press release. “The common use of the technology platform shows how investment in mobile health is a way to improve overall population health as quickly and efficiently as possible.”