Day Two of the NIH Foundation’s inaugural mHealth Summit focused on how mobile technology can help address public health needs in developing countries. During the morning’s keynote speeches, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Fawley Bagley, Special Representative for Global Partnerships, and Ambassador Eric Goosby, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, expressed great optimism about the promise of the mobile platform in improving health care education and delivery around the globe.
Today’s sessions included a presentation of outstanding results in the use of mHealth. One of the most exciting examples: Pop!Tech’s Project Masiluleke. Meaning ‘hope’ and ‘warm counsel’ in Zulu, this South Africa-based initiative uses mobile technology to address one of the world’s gravest and most urgent public health crises – the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Project Masiluleke seizes the opportunity presented by the 1 to 1.5 million "Please call me" text messages that are sent each day in South Africa by prepaid mobile users who have reached their service limits. In South Africa, nearly all phone service is prepaid. When prepaid users reach their payment limits and can no longer place outgoing calls, they’re still allowed receive calls and can send up to 7 free text messages that read: “Please call me.”
Project Masiluleke adds health information to these commonly-sent messages. In addition to "Please call me," messages also encourage at-risk individuals to contact public health clinics, get tested, and better understand disease prevention and management tactics. Since the project launched this spring, it has resulted in call volume increases of more than 300% to public health clinics.
This Project is expected to be a critical tool in addressing South Africa’s alarming HIV/AIDS rate and its cultural challenges. Though it has more HIV positive citizens than any country in the world — more than 40% of the population is infected in some provinces — only 2% of South Africans have ever been tested for HIV. Of those who are HIV positive, a mere 10% are receiving treatment. However, nearly 100% of South Africans have access to a mobile phone.
HIV/AIDS carries a huge social stigma in South Africa, and many avoid getting tested or pursuing treatment out of fear or embarrassment. Making matters worse, there is wide-spread misinformation about how the disease is contracted. The mobile platform provides opportunities to privately seek and receive factual health care information and testing results.
To date, the mobile phone has proved to be a high-impact, low-cost tool in South Africa’s fight against HIV/AIDS. Analysis shows that Project Masiluleke has the potential to mobilize hundreds of thousands to get tested.
With the clear commitment of Pop!Tech and its partners, the progress presented today is likely just the beginning of using mHealth to save and improve lives across South Africa.