Solving public health crises with mobile technology

The most widespread Ebola virus epidemic in history began in 2013 and continued for over two years, infecting tens of thousands of people and causing social and economic devastation on a frightening scale.  The outbreak was largely focused in three West African countries, and it was only through the herculean efforts of thousands of community leaders, educators, doctors, nurses, and public health workers that a much wider outbreak was avoided.


Simplified Ebola virus Africa epidemic situation map (December 2013 – January 2016) 

Tackling such a public health crisis requires a tremendous level of field coordination and information sharing in challenging environments, and eHealth Africa has been a technology leader in meeting these challenges during the Ebola outbreak.  eHealth Africa is a US-African NGO focused on developing and implementing technology solutions that connect and deliver public health services and commodities to underserved communities across the African continent.

We are proud that Telerivet plays a part in eHealth Africa’s technology solutions to such important problems.  “During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, we needed to rapidly develop solutions to logistical challenges that had never previously been encountered,” says Didi Hoffmann, CTO of eHealth Africa.  “Telerivet allowed us to do this with a minimum of code, in a manner that was both reliable and scalable."

Directing Local Dispatch Teams via SMS

At the height of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, eHealth Africa rolled out call centers in three of the affected countries, which all ran on a web-based application that allowed operators to log and respond to reports of new cases. These operators would then pass on necessary information to local dispatch teams, who would quarantine and treat these cases.


In the affected countries where local dispatch teams often did not have internet access, SMS was the only viable medium for passing this information. In order to enable their application to send and receive SMS messages, eHealth Africa turned to Telerivet.

"Telerivet enabled us to rapidly prototype SMS based solutions and scale with the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa." – Didi Hoffmann, CTO of eHealth Africa

Telerivet's REST API and Webhook API provided an easy way for eHealth Africa's Node.js application to send and receive SMS. According to eHealth Africa's CTO, Didi Hoffmann, "Telerivet's simple REST API and client wrappers made it the obvious choice as a messaging platform."

In Sierra Leone and Guinea, where eHealth Africa acquired three SMS shortcodes from local mobile network operators, Telerivet integrated directly with the mobile networks' systems. In addition, Telerivet's Android app enabled eHealth Africa to send and receive SMS messages throughout West Africa without needing a mobile network integration.

Notifying Relatives of a Patient's Location via SMS

Rapid quarantining of infected individuals, a major part of the fight against Ebola, was done in Emergency Treatment Units (ETUs). But it soon became apparent that there was a lack of trust: once a patient had entered an ETU, there was no way of informing relatives of their status or whereabouts. As a result, patients would refuse to enter the ETUs, a factor that contributed to the ongoing spread of the disease.

To counter this, eHealth Africa developed Trace and Go, an open source application that notifies relatives and loved ones of the status and location of patients via SMS, using the Telerivet REST API to send messages.

"Once again we used Telerivet as a messaging platform; once again it helped us to save lives."


See how other healthcare organizations are using Telerivet to improve communication and public health, or check out Telerivet for yourself at

Message scheduling and data collection just got even better

You asked for it and we delivered!

At the request of several organizations conducting mHealth projects—including the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action—we’re excited to unveil new tools that will make Telerivet even more useful for organizations conducting maternal or infant health campaigns, and for many other businesses and NGOs too.

Store important dates as contact information

Telerivet already supports storing custom contact information (e.g. text, numbers, yes/no fields, email addresses, and alternate phone numbers) and with this update, we’ve included dates as a new type of contact information that you can store.

Whether you need to keep track of expectant mothers’ due dates, customer birthdates, or borrowers’ repayment dates, you can now include important date information for contacts in Telerivet. When you store information in a date field, you’ll be able to sort contacts chronologically by date, and quickly input dates using a calendar.


We also made it easier to manage your custom contact information. On the Contacts page, click “More”, then click “Manage fields”. If you’ve already been storing dates as text, you can edit your Text field and change its type to Date.


Schedule messages relative to each contact

Now that you can store dates for each contact, Telerivet also now makes it super simple to schedule messages relative to those dates. For example:

  • Maternal health campaign managers can schedule a series of messages for a particular number of weeks before or after the expectant mother’s due date.

  • Business owners can easily wish their customers a happy birthday by storing their contacts' birthdates and scheduling a message on their birthday every year.

With "relative" scheduled messages, it’s no longer necessary to manually calculate the right time to send each message for each contact. Simply import your contact information and let Telerivet calculate the right time to send each message.

To schedule a relative message, go to the Messages page, click “New Message”, then “Schedule”, then click the “Relative” tab. Everything works the same way as scheduling a basic message to a group or set of contacts, but instead of specifying one date to send all messages, you select an interval relative to one of your Date fields. For example, “34 weeks before Due Date”, “on Due Date”, or “2 months after Due Date”:


When you save a relative message, Telerivet will automatically generate a scheduled message for each contact and will keep the schedule updated even if contact information changes or if new contacts are added or removed.

You can easily see when each message will be sent on the “Scheduled” tab of the Messages page (the auto-generated messages are shown in blue).

Register other contacts via the Rules Engine

Telerivet’s Rules Engine has always made it easy to build systems that let people update their own contact information. Now we’ve made it possible to build systems that let you update a contact different from the one who sent the message.

As shown in the example below, this feature lets community health workers use their own mobile phones to collect due dates from expectant mothers and send a structured SMS message containing the expectant mother’s phone number, due date, and name (eg. “065155555 6.2.14 Jane Smith”). With the simple automated service below, Telerivet will automatically update the contact information and schedule the expectant mother to receive personalized messages according to their due date:


You can customize Telerivet to interpret dates in your local format (such as m/d/yy or d.m.yy), and Telerivet can even interpret dates if the year is omitted.

If someone registers an invalid date, Telerivet will highlight it in red on your Contacts page, so you can correct any invalid data (or you could add additional rules to validate the date before saving it).

To use this feature, simply create a custom rule-based service and add a “Use another contact” action. With this action, you can extract the phone number of the contact from the content of the incoming SMS, such as [[word1]] (the first word of the SMS message). Then any other actions your automated service performs — such as adding the contact to a group or setting contact information — will be applied to the contact with that phone number, instead of the contact who actually sent the message.

See it in action!

Watch the video below for a step-by-step demonstration of how to use these new features to set up a maternal health campaign with Telerivet:


To try it out yourself, log in to your Telerivet account or register a new account.

As always, email us at if you run into any problems or if you have any suggestions for new features. And stay tuned for even more updates in a few weeks!

MAMA’s global learning course

At Telerivet, we always enjoy sharing our technology with new audiences. So Jesse (our CTO) and I were thrilled to participate in the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action global learning course last week and share a tutorial video we created to show how MAMA programs can create their mobile messaging campaign with Telerivet. Our cloud-based platform makes it easy to set up and deploy a wide variety of mobile messaging programs — including maternal health campaigns, polling, community organizing, sending appointment reminders, and much more.

The video we presented last week focuses on the steps for creating a mobile messaging campaign within Telerivet. For maternal health campaigns, the easiest way is to use any spreadsheet program (like Excel) to quickly generate a schedule of messages to send according to each mother’s due date, then simply copy and paste those messages into Telerivet. To download an Excel template that you could adapt for your organization’s messaging campaign, click here.

View our tutorial video to see how it works:

Update 1/23/14: We just launched improved features for message scheduling, so the above method is no longer the easiest way to conduct maternal health campaigns. See blog post and updated tutorial video

We're rapidly improving and adding capabilities to Telerivet, and we’re always looking to our customers for suggestions on what we should build next — so let us know if you have ideas about new features that could help your organization.

Thanks again to the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action for including us in their global learning course and we hope to work with the MAMA community to support maternal health through mobile messaging!


Telerivet powers Nuru International’s next campaign

Nuru International is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty in remote, rural areas by equipping people with the tools and knowledge they need.

In Kenya, Nuru has been working with smallholder farmers in Kuria West district to prevent the spread of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND). MLND is a virus that leads to fungal infections in corn plants, and has a major impact on the livelihood of smallholder farmers, who can easily lose their entire crop to the disease.

This summer, Nuru launched a SMS campaign to provide information to farmers about preventing MLND. To power their communication system, Nuru turned to Telerivet.

The campaign reached its goal: 98.4% of farmers in Nuru's campaign kept their crops free of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease. Furthermore, farmers expressed that they were really happy to be receiving information by SMS.


Now, Nuru Healthcare and their Social Marketing Teams plan to launch a campaign focused on women attending four antenatal care (ANC) visits. The team plans to utilize Telerivet again as a tool for spreading individual reminders and wider-reaching messages.

Lindsay Cope, Healthcare Senior Program Manager for Nuru explains, “We saw great success with the first SMS-based campaign aimed at helping farmers prevent Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease from devastating their farms. Now we are thrilled to utilize similar methods to improve maternal and child health.”

Nuru’s primary way of connecting with women in the community will be through Telerivet’s informational services. The Social Marketing Team linked Telerivet to their Salesforce database which allows local staff to send relevant, real-time messages to a variety of audiences.


Based on their formative research, the campaign will take a three-pronged messaging approach highlighting factors identified to influence a woman's ability to seek four visits. These will include emphasizing what makes it important and easy to attend the first visit in the first trimester of pregnancy, peer and family approval, and linking ANC visits to a healthy start to a child's life leading to future family contribution.  

With only 20% of pregnant women in Nuru’s target community in Kuria, Kenya attending the four recommended antenatal care (ANC) visits, and just 6.2% seeking the first visit in the first trimester, Nuru Healthcare and Social Marketing Teams are eager to launch their upcoming ANC campaign.