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Photo: Zinny Thabethe with a mobile phone

Photograph courtesy of Pop!Tech

About the Project

Project Masiluleke  is designed to harness the mobile phone as a high-impact, low-cost tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS and TB. Nearly a hundred percent of South Africans have access to a mobile device and the project will touch virtually every one of them. Conservative estimates indicate Project Masiluleke could mobilize hundreds of thousands to get tested in the first year alone.

The key elements and stages of Project Masiluleke include:

“Please Call Me” x 1 Million x 365

The first stage of the project is built around the use of specialized text messages, delivering approximately 1,000,000 HIV/AIDS and TB messages each day, for one year, to the general public. These messages are broadcast in the unused space of “Please Call Me” (PCM) text messages—a special, free form of SMS text widely used in South Africa and across the continent. Utilizing technology from the Praekelt Foundation, message content from iTeach, design insights from frog design, and network capacity donated by MTN, the messages connect mobile users to existing HIV and TB call centers. Trained operators provide callers with accurate healthcare information, counseling, and referrals to local testing clinics.

Early beta testing of this service has already helped triple average daily call volume to the National AIDS Helpline in Johannesburg. The system is being fine tuned and will officially launch during the first quarter of 2009.

TxtAlert: Keeping Patients Connected to Care

Only ten percent of South Africans with AIDS are currently receiving anti-retroviral (ARV) therapy, and of those who begin treatment, more than 40 percent do not remain on the life-saving drugs past two years. Project Masiluleke will address this critical problem through the Praekelt Foundation’s TxtAlert technology, which uses text messaging to remind patients of scheduled clinic visits—helping to ensure they adhere to ARV regimens.

HIV Virtual Call Centers

For Project Masiluleke’s second phase, plans are underway to implement “virtual call centers,” where existing helplines will be augmented by teams of highly trained, highly adherent HIV patients. These individuals will field questions remotely, via their mobile devices, from the general public. Counselors will be closely vetted and trained and represent “gold star” patients—extremely knowledgeable about their illness, diligent about their treatment regimen and intimately familiar with the weight of an HIV diagnosis. These virtual call centers hold the potential to create hundreds of new jobs and considerably increase the capacity of South Africa’s health response system.

At-Home HIV Testing With Mobile Support

Ultimately, with more HIV citizens than any country in the world, and infection rates topping 40 percent in some provinces, South Africa demands a radical solution to truly reverse its HIV/AIDS and TB crises. For the third phase of Project M, the project partners are actively exploring a breakthrough distributed diagnostics model: low cost, at-home HIV testing with mobile counseling support. Analogous to a pregnancy test, these distributed diagnostics would provide a free, private and reliable way for anyone to take the critical first step of knowing his or her status, with high-quality information provided via mobile device.

Home testing does raise some serious questions, which will require thoughtful analysis and careful planning; however, an effective HIV home-testing service could help trigger system-wide positive change. Early response from South African government and healthcare officials, as well as likely users in both urban and rural communities, has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The Project M team hopes to initiate a global conversation about this and other potentially transformative solutions applicable in South Africa and worldwide. Frog design and iTeach are actively collaborating on visionary design strategies which can guide a possible implementation of this solution.

—Text courtesy Pop!Tech

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