LUSAKA, Zambia — By snapping a picture with a cell phone, the World Food Programme (WFP,) is distributing malaria nets more efficiently. Taking a photo of “Quick Response” or QR codes stamped on the aid supplies enables the agency to better track their outreach programs.
QR codes can store essential information like URLs, text messages and GPS coordinates. They are more advanced than barcodes because of their ability to hold and update information. And with the ease of taking a picture with a cell phone, all of the data within the QR codes can be retrieved.
The codes are helping WFP to improve GPS tracking for the millions of dollars of aid supplies that are transported around the world. The QR codes make distributing aid more efficient because staff members, after receiving the packages, can instantaneously access all of the information they need. With WFP’s lead, these new codes have the ability to assist other NGOs as well in making aid transport even more effective.
Currently, WFP is utilizing QR codes in Zambia to track about 5 million insecticide-treated nets. The mosquito nets are being shipped to over 1,000 health centers around the country in a combined effort by the WFP, U.N. Development Program and the Global fund to reduce malaria.
Although the country has made great strides in recent years, malaria remains a serious health problem in Zambia. Over four million people a year become infected with malaria, resulting in about 8,000 deaths every year. Those most affected are children under 5, and the disease is a large contributing factor to the high infant mortality rate in the nation.
These nets are stamped with QR codes, which are connected to the WFP central database. At the local level, workers in Zambia can take a picture with their cell phone and access the information using a scanner downloaded on their phone. The data then tells the history of the specific package of nets.
The new technology is particularly useful for workers in remote areas who have limited access to the Internet and electricity. All of the information they need is encrypted within the codes so aid distribution is now faster and more efficient even in rural regions.
As a result of the government’s initiative, in partnership with a number of international aid organizations like WFP, large numbers of nets are being shipped to Zambia to completely eliminate malaria in the nation.
Access to mosquito nets is an essential part of the plan because they dramatically lower an individual’s potential for getting malaria.
In order to increase the number of people with access to the nets, the initiative calls for large-scale distribution where the life-saving mesh is given away for free. The plan also involves ensuring the health centers have a steady supply of nets so patients can purchase them at little cost.
The malaria net program in Zambia marks the first time WFP has used QR codes for a large project and the organization reports that is has been successful thus far. WFP is now able to not only track all of their shipments and supplies, but also the whole Zambia net project can be effortlessly tracked on a cell phone or computer.
– Kathleen Egan