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Saturday 26th May 2018

HIV text reminders in South Africa

28th October 2008

Non-government groups in South Africa, considered to be the epicentre of the global HIV epidemic, are launching a mobile phone text campaign, riding on the back of the medium's popularity in the country, where around 350,000 people are estimated to die of AIDS every year.


In an attempt to encourage people to get tested for the virus, Project Masiluleke will send one million free text messages a day.

A pilot project in Johannesburg found that testing rates among the general population doubled after the messages were broadcast in that city.

Project founder Gustav Praekelt said it was one of the largest ever uses of mobile phones for public health purposes.

According to the United Nations, there are currently six million people living with HIV in South Africa.

But activists said misinformation and stigma remained rife in many communities and testing levels remained low.

While HIV testing is widely available only 5% of South Africans have tested for HIV, testing mostly when it is far too late, and they are about to die of AIDS.

Project Masiluleke was set up to try to counter this and encourage people to seek testing and treatment.

The initiative plans to broadcast millions of health messages every month to mobile phones across South Africa, where there are currently around 43 million handsets in a country of 49 million people, most of them prepaid.

The country's "Please Call Me" (PCM) service is free, allowing someone without phone credit to message a friend to ask them to call.

Praekelt said the project was a great opportunity to drive social change because it would send messages to parts of the population who never normally got this kind of information.

Texts, many of which are in local African languages, include: "Worried that you might have HIV and want to talk to a counsellor about getting tested? Call AIDS helpline 0800 012 322."

Calls to AIDS helplines where the scheme was piloted quadrupled after the text messages were broadcast. The programme will go live nationwide on International AIDS Day on 1 December 2008.


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