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International News

Texts Used to Tackle South Africa HIV Crisis

December 12, 2008

An ambitious HIV awareness campaign will send 1 million free text messages to educate South African cell phone users about HIV/AIDS and encourage them to get tested. Developed by Pop!Tech, Project Masiluleke's launch is set for February.

In South Africa, more than 80 percent of the population have a mobile phone, and almost 95 percent are prepaid. "There is near universal coverage," said Gustav Praekelt, one of the project's originators. "And in the absence of other services, the mobile phone has become the central component for people to get access to information."

The campaign uses a free form of text messaging known as the "Please Call Me" (PCM) service, common across Africa, which allows a person to send a free text message asking a friend to return the call. Each PCM message has "Please Call Me" in text, lists the caller's phone number, and has space for an additional 120 characters. The extra space is usually advertising, which subsidizes the PCM service.

One Project Masiluleke message says "Frequently sick, tired, losing weight and scared that you might be HIV positive? Please call AIDS Helpline 0800012322." In addition to English, the messages are also transmitted in other local languages such as Zulu. Trained operators provide accurate health information and referrals to local testing sites. Pilot testing in October was successful, organizers said.

"We have observed a dramatic increase in the call rate to the AIDS Helpline -- from approximately 1,300 calls per day to a new average of 3,600," said Milo Zama, projects development manager for Lifeline, one of the campaign's partners.

Project organizers hope to secure funding to expand the service beyond South Africa.

Back to other news for December 2008

Adapted from:
12.01.2008; Stephanie Busari

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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