Each day, one million South Africans get a text message that reads something like this:
Frequently sick, tired, losing weight and scared that you might be HIV positive? Please call AIDS Helpline 0800012322.
It's part of Project Masiluleke — which means “hope” and “warm counsel” in Zulu — a plan to use mobile phones to encourage South Africans to test for HIV. It is believed to be the largest mobile communication campaign for health promotion ever attempted.
South Africa has an estimated six million people infected with HIV, according to the United Nations. And almost 90 percent of South Africans have mobile phones with plans that include free “please call me” text messages.
Encouraging people to get tested is a challenge in a country where stigma and shame accompanies a positive diagnosis. Project Masiluleke will offer South Africans discretion and privacy to get tested, treatment options and counseling.
Initial results have been encouraging. During three weeks of usability testing in October, Project Masiluleke helped increase daily call volume to the National AIDS Helpline in Johannesburg by nearly 200 percent, according to National Geographic.
As CNET reports, "This isn't the first time cell phones have been employed in the battle against AIDS. In August, a catchy 'condom, condom' ringtone made its debut as part of a three-year ad campaign aimed at making condom use more socially acceptable in India."
Project Masiluleke is another good demonstration of how mobile phones can be used for the public good. Let's hope it encourages South Africans to take control of their health and pursue the care they need.