In Zambia, a text message could literally save your life. Thanks to an innovative sexual health information service conducted entirely over text, Zambia’s youth are able to access free, instant, and most importantly, confidential advice through their mobile phones.
According to a report from UNAIDS, today one in every eight people in Zambia is living with HIV. While the situation has improved since the mid-90s, it remains one of the countries with the highest prevalence rates in the whole world. And while the numbers of AIDS-related deaths are dropping all over the globe, a recent report by UNICEF revealed that adolescent deaths from AIDS have in fact tripled since the year 2000.
Zambia's U-Report is a mobile-based interactive counselling service that allows teens to seek advice about HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections easily and discreetly, just by sending a text from their mobile phones. After supplying their age, sex and location, they are then are able to pose any questions they like to the sexual health counsellors at the other end of the line. The answers they receive are individualized, free, and available around the clock. Launched in 2012, today there are nearly 100,000 people signed up to the service,
Francesco VolpiIt goes without saying that a lack of access to information about reproductive health makes young people much more vulnerable to infection, and that factor, coupled with the lack of use of basic contraception, is one the main drivers of the disease. In fact, according to a report from the National Aids Council 90% of new HIV infections in Zambia were the result of not using a condom.
Teens in particular are often too embarrassed or scared, to talk to someone face to face about these kind of "sensitive" issues, and much prefer the anonymity offered to them by a website or a text message. And that's exactly what makes this service so effective, and explains its huge popularity. And if current trends are anything to by, now seems like the perfect time for a mobile phoned-based counselling service to thrive. Zambia's U-Report text message experiment is part of a trend in both so-called developed and developing countries, that is seeing medical services facilitated by technology: information, advice and even diagnoses delivered via text message, smart phone, or laptop computer. And unexpectedly, tech-savvy teens often quickest to catch on.
If you're in Zambia and want to join the U-Report community, text the word “JOIN” to 878 on any network. And for more information about how the scheme works, check out the video below.