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Mobile Phones to stop HIV from Mother To Child PDF Print E-mail

By Olivia Nalweyiso and Sarah Nalule

In an effort to reduce the rate of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV (MTCT), an interactive text messaging service has been put in place. 

Health Child (HC) and Text to Change (TTC) through a Health Campaign launched “Save the mother to save the child” in collaboration with the Department of Health Services, Jinja District.

The SMS health campaign aims at reducing MTCT among the fishing community, one of the identified HIV high-risk groups, using mobile phones.

The project is supported by the International Institute of Communication and Development (IICD) Netherlands.  

Studies show that HIV prevalence among the fishing community is 28 percent, higher than the national 6.4 percent.

Another study, ‘estimates of adult HIV incidence by mode of transmission 2008’ says MTCT at 18 percent, accounts for the third highest new HIV infections after mutually monogamous partnerships and multiple sexual partners, the highest at 37 percent.
In its campaign, Health Child collected 3,512 telephone numbers from MTN, ZAIN, UTL and Warid subscribers from Kakira-Kabembe, Kisima I and II islands, Masese and Walukaba fishing villages plus Lwabitokee island all in Jinja district.

The launch of the project was at Masese where community members got free HIV Counseling and Testing.

A baseline study carried out by Health Child in Jinja district, shows that fishing communities have not been able to access health services because of lack of knowledge on which services are provided at the Health Centers.
The new health information service, TTC was designed with a flexible platform that will redesign information materials and messages into an acceptable SMS format with the option to present the messages in Luganda and English.     

Questions are sent out weekly and if the recipient answers correctly, a confirmation SMS is sent at no cost.
Health Child officials say they expect that the messages will improve on Maternal Health in fishing communities.

The project aims to encourage women in fishing villages to visit Health Centres for antenatal and PMTCT. However, the project also targets men to go with their wives for ANC and couples’ testing.

Mrs. Betty Walakira, Executive Director Health Child, said the messages will include outreaches that Health Child will carry in collaboration with the Health Centres to target especially women who give birth at home, who are the majority.

Bas Hoefman, the public relations manager TTC, says the millions of mobile phone subscribers has encouraged them to use this as a way of reaching out to communities to improve their health.

He felt that more people would respond if the questions were written in local languages and there was better sensitisation and awareness of the campaign.

The program also engages the public in an interactive SMS quiz on health prevention and promotion; and rewards participants with prizes such as airtime, mosquito nets, football jerseys and household equipment.
The purpose of the SMS for health project is to increase access to health information and services among rural communities.

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