The Red Cross and local operator Airtel have launched a new service in Sierra Leone that offers information on disease outbreaks and other emergencies such as fires and floods.

The partners aim to reach around one million Sierra Leoneans within the first month after launch with advice about malaria and cholera, among other diseases. The country has a total population of about six million.

The Red Cross says that it will use a location-based system called the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) to reach a potential audience of 36,000 people within an hour via SMS.

The system is two-way so the charity can assess which areas are in the greatest need during an emergency and then respond with more information.

Sierra Leone is the second country in the world after Haiti to launch the TERA system.

“Last year our country was hit by the worst cholera outbreak in 40 years. Simple information could have helped prevent some of the 300 deaths we suffered,” said Sierra Leone’s Vice President, Chief Samuel Sam Sumana.

Malaria is an even more serious problem, claiming over 16,000 lives in the country every year. It is the country’s largest preventable cause of death.

In addition to the Red Cross and Airtel, two other local mobile operators, Comium and SierraTel, are both involved in the project. However, Africell, the country’s largest mobile operator, is not currently part of the scheme.

The charity says Africell was approached but no deal has been struck. “Unfortunately as yet, they have [Africell] not been able to install TERA or sign an MOU to issue SMS on behalf of the Red Cross”,” said a spokesperson. No reason was given but the Red Cross said it would go on trying to persuade the operator to join in. Such schemes have their greatest impact when they have ubiquitous coverage.

TERA was originally developed by US firm Trilogy International Partners for the Haitian mobile market following the country’s earthquake in 2010.