South Africa Uses Innovative Technology to Encourage AIDS Testing and Treatment

As reported by the BBC, South Africa is about to use text messaging technology to spread the word about getting tested for HIV/AIDS.  Starting on December 1, 2008, 1 million text messages will be sent in both English and local dialects like Zulu encouraging people to get tested and treated for HIV/AIDS. 

Estimates suggested that the 49 million South Africans have 43 million mobile phones, making text messaging and easier way to reach South African’s citizens.  South Africa also has a free text messaging system by which one person can send a free text message with the heading “please call me” and their phone number, usually followed by advertising to offset the cost of the free messages.  In this instance, the messages will be followed by a 120 character message advocating testing and treatment; “Worried that you might have HIV and want to talk to a counsellor about getting tested? Call Aids helpline 0800012322.”   

This system will eventually be used to spread information about tuberculosis.

South Africa is currently considered the epicenter of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.  According to United Nations estimates, South Africa is home to 6 million people living with HIV, and 350,000 South Africans die of AIDS-related diseases each year.   Even though HIV testing is widely available, only 5% of South Africans manage to get tested for the disease. 

Early trials show an increase of calls to AIDS helpline as a result of the messages.

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