You and I might use text messaging to remind our roommate to pick up toilet paper on the way home from work, but around sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phones are taking on a new role as tools against the AIDS pandemic that is ravaging the continent.
In recent years, Africa’s internet infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the continent’s booming growth in cell phone access. Some estimates in South Africa suggest that 74 percent of youth use mobile phones on a regular basis, whereas only 6 percent access the internet to a similar degree. This level of coverage has prompted AIDS workers to adopt mobile phones as a tool to both prevent and treat the virus. One possibility for using mobile phones against AIDS is helping people living with the virus to stick to strict treatment regimes and to access medical advice without traveling to a clinic. This is especially relevant in a region with large rural populations and limited health infrastructure.
A group at University of Nairobi clinics has been using a cell phone-based program to check in with their clients on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) each week. Patients receive a text message asking how they’re doing, and then health practitioners react to their responses to give the best care. During post-election violence in Kenya in January 2008, the team used text messages to make sure that patients were able to stick to their treatment regimes and avoid drug resistance from going off ART medication.
Another approach makes use of text message-based prevention and awareness campaigns that reach out to people with information about where to get tested, how the virus is transmitted, and the ins and outs of safe sex. Project Masiluleke has taken a “know your status” approach, sending out a million daily text messages urging people in South Africa to seek counseling and testing: “Worried that you might have HIV and want to talk to a counsellor about getting tested? Call AIDS helpline 0800012322.” The project’s pilot test saw average daily calls to the National AIDS Helpline in Johannesburg triple.
Mobile phones are also being used at the health system level to help collect information for national HIV/ AIDS treatment campaigns. In Rwanda, the TracNet project allows health practitioners to submit real-time reports to a HIV information hub using their mobile phones. They might report on how many patients they’ve seen, how many cases of AIDS they’ve diagnosed, and how many medications they’ve administered that week. All this information helps the government to make sure clinics are getting the supplies they need and to keep track of areas that need the most prevention efforts.
The response to HIV/ AIDS has traditionally been led by the people who are most affected by the disease, whether it’s gay men in Europe and North America, grandmothers taking care of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, or youth facing the highest risk throughout the world. Using mobile phones to combat HIV/AIDS literally puts more control over the virus into the hands of people who need it the most.
Picture, Human Red Ribbon, by Nabil Chemli.
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Mobiles phones impacts Unyimeabasi
| May 6th, 2009
Obvious, mobile phones plays critical role in HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. I have just come to discover that in most sub-saharan African countries, instead of mounting road shows and all that, the use of mobile phones for awareness would be very impacting. THis is because the number of youths using mobile phone increases everyday in Africa, specifically Nigeria.
THis idea is worth application.
Phones Against AIDS VB
| May 4th, 2009
That is so interesting. As someone who has travelled to Africa and seen the incredibly high use of cell phones there, I think this is a great concept.
I've led workshops about HIV/AIDS awareness with African youth before and I have used cell phones to recruit participants. However I never thought people used them at the health level to get people to VCT clinics, remind people to take their ART medication, etc.
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