Text to Change (TTC), a Dutch non-governmental organisation (NGO) using a bulk short message service (SMS) platform for health education, is partnering with local Ugandan NGOs and mobile phone providers to conduct projects designed to communicate knowledge about HIV and AIDS and encourage subscribers to volunteer for HIV testing. The first programme was launched on February 14 2008, and, over a 6-week period, 15,000 Zain Uganda subscribers from the Greater Mbarara region received interactive text messages in the form of multiple choice questions on their mobile phones. Since then, TTC has conducted 3 more programmes, reaching over 60,000 people.
TTC in Uganda uses information and communication technology (ICT) in an effort to:
- create dialogue in order to increase awareness of HIV and AIDS and achieve comprehensive knowledge levels among young people;
- reduce HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination; and
- motivate people to seek HIV testing and treatment.
In the first programme, TTC worked in collaboration with local HIV counselling and testing (HCT) service providers. The organisers chose a list of 15,000 Zain subscribers in Mbarara district and sent them an introductory SMS asking if they would like to participate in a free interactive quiz about HIV, with the incentive of handsets and airtime as rewards for correct answers. A question was sent each week. If the recipient answered correctly, a confirmation SMS was sent; if he or she answered incorrectly, a rectifying message was sent. Questions included, "What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?", "How is HIV transmitted?", "Have you ever tested for HIV?"
The launch was preceded by a radio talk show on Vision Radio by a team from Mbarara branch to create awareness about the project. According to the organisers, of the 15,000 subscribers contacted, 2,500 responded to each question. At the end of the trial period of questions and answers, participants were encouraged to go for HIV testing. According to TTC, this strategy is designed to use edutainment and interactive SMS communication to reach out to millions of people in Africa and around the world to spread the message about HIV/AIDS and make it a subject of discussion. They also state that the anonymity of mobile phones could be a contributing factor to the successful use of this technology for health education.
TTC expanded its programmes in 2009 in other regions in Uganda and is addressing other health education issues via text messages as well. TTC is also bringing its services to Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania.
According to the organisers, mobile phone subscription levels are rising rapidly all over the world. Since 2000, the number of subscribers has almost tripled, rising from around 720 million to over 2 billion. The spread of mobile phones has been most rapid in those regions where usage was previously limited. Therefore, they believe that mobile telephony is providing all the ingredients to bridge the digital divide. In sub-Saharan Africa, subscription numbers have climbed to nearly 8 times their level at the end of 2000. There are now approximately 83 million mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa. Industry forecasts suggested that, by the end of 2007, subscriber numbers in sub-Saharan Africa reached over 130 million.
TTC is a nonprofit organisation founded in 2006 that uses mobile phone technology to send out and receive information on health and other vital issues in developing countries. The aim of TTC is to share vital knowledge with local people on the streets and in the villages, especially to community- and family-level caregivers. In addition, TTC hopes to increase the uptake of health services and eventually evoke behavioural change. TTC's SMS platform can also be used for remote data collection in conflict areas, monitoring and campaigning for improved school quality, and reduced teacher absenteeism.
TTC, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD), Zain, Health Initiatives for the Private Sector (HIPS)-Uganda.