Cell phone campaign against HIV/AIDS takes off in South Africa

October 25th, 2008 - 2:20 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Oct 25 (ANI): With the number of HIV/AIDS cases increasing in South Africa, health workers have now resorted to one of the most popular technology to make people aware of the virus and the disease- text messaging.
Health workers have launched an ambitious text messaging campaign, which will inform millions of South Africans daily about HIV/AIDS counseling services and testing centers throughout the country.
The campaign is titled, Project Masiluleke, which means “hope” and “warm counsel” in the South Africa’’s major language, Zulu. “(It) is one of the largest ever uses of mobile phones for health info,” New Scientist quoted Andrew Zolli, executive director of Pop!Tech, which helped coordinate and fund the project.
The initiative was announced this week at the annual Pop!Tech technology conference in Camden, Maine. According to Thabethe and Zolli, a large number of South Africans have prepaid phones, and their plans include free “please call me” text messages, which users send when they are out of minutes.
Bosses at Project Masiluleke collaborated with South African cellular company MTN to send out one million “please call me” messages everyday for the next year.
One such message reads: “HIV + & being mistreated by your family of friends? For confidential counseling call AIDS Helpline on 0800012322.”
This is not the first time such a campaign has been launched, “but this campaign is the most ambitious we are aware of,” said Robert Noble of AVERT, an U.K.-based AIDS charity that works in South Africa.
After three weeks of trial, said Pop!Tech’’s Zolli, Project Masiluleke helped increase average daily-call volume to the National AIDS Helpline in Johannesburg by nearly 200 percent.
People can benefit from the call centers, as they help to provide information on testing facilities, overcome depression, figure out how to effectively use their medication, or refer people to medical experts.
And Thabethe mentioned that they will also make sure that callers to help lines always remain anonymous.
Zinhle Thabethe co-founded iTeach, an HIV/AIDS education organization that is part of Project Masiluleke.
Pop!Tech’’s Zolli said that South Africa is one of the most resource-constrained regions in the world.
Zolli added that Project Masiluleke was “designed to serve as a scalable, high-impact model that can be replicated worldwide.” (ANI)

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