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South Africa's text message campaign to spread AIDS awareness, is already having a positive effect, spurring more people to call in to the national information hotline and seek treatment.  (Source: The PSI BCC Blog)

New eCards from inSPOT.org are giving people a way to warn their sex partners that they might have given them an STD, something medical professionals say is critical to fighting disease. The wild cards can range from flirty to serious, but direct people to useful information.  (Source: inSPOT.org)
The text message you don't want to get; "You might have an STD!"

Medical professionals, faced with an uphill fight against STDs and the social stigma that surrounds them have gone high tech and are taking their fight to the digital realm.  A couple key initiatives have arisen to halt the spread of these diseases and guide people to treatment.

The first is South Africa's new text message campaign to fight AIDS.  In Africa, where AIDS originated and still remains a top killer, many are still relatively uniformed about AIDS and HIV.  The leaders of South Africa, one of Africa's largest nations, aims to change that by sending one million text messages a day for 12 months to phones in Africa to raise AIDS awareness.

The project, named Project Masiluleke, already underwent a wildly successful trial period, which helped increase calls to the national AIDS hotline increase 200 percent.  Currently there are 6 million people in South Africa living with HIV, according to the UN.  Only one in ten gets the treatment they need to slow the disease and potentially prevent it from becoming full-blown AIDS.

HIV activist Zinny Thabethe said in a recent speech, "South Africa is the epicenter of the global HIV epidemic."

The real problem is how to reach citizens, but the new campaign appears to have provided an answer to that.  With over 80 percent of the country's citizens having a cell phone, there are an estimated total of 43 million cell phones in South Africa (95 percent pre-paid).  These phones offer a new high-tech means of distributing important health information, officials are discovering.

Describes Gustav Praekelt, one of the project's organizers, "This is the largest ever use of cell phones for health information.  There is near universal coverage.  And in the absence of other services, the mobile phone has become the central component for people to get access to information."

The message sent reads: "Frequently sick, tired, losing weight and scared that you might be HIV positive? Please call AIDS Helpline 0800012322."

Additional space is sold to advertisers to help finance the drive.

In the U.S. a similar initiative, this time citizen-driven, is taking shape.  InSpot.org, a new website, is becoming the talk of the town for the free eCards it offers to tell people that you might have given them an STD.

While health professionals find the impersonal nature of such messages slightly unsavory, they say it gets the job done by helping inform possible carriers to get tested, a key to avoiding the spread of disease.  Says Jeffrey D. Klausner, director of STD Prevention and Control Services in San Francisco, California's Department of Public Health, "When you weigh the importance of getting people notified, that's ultimately what needs to be done.  By notifying them -- even if it's done anonymously, even distantly, even with an e-card -- the benefits of getting someone diagnosed and treated outweigh the concerns of insensitivity."

The site's creators, Internet Sexuality Information Services, have teamed up with medical professionals in 10 cities to offer free guidance to those receiving the card.  This will help direct them to testing locations and answer their questions.  Explains Deb Levine, executive director of Internet Sexuality Information Services, a nonprofit organization, "It's not like you get a card and it's, 'Oh no, it's a dead end'.  The card leads you to regularly updated information about what you may have been exposed to."

The cards range in nature from flirty like: "You're too hot to be out of action. I got diagnosed with an STD since we played. You might want to get checked too." -- to serious, like -- "Who? What? When? Where? It doesn't matter. I got an STD; you might have it too. Please get checked out."

So far, the nonprofit in charge of the site says the number of complaints and prank messages has been extremely low.  As of October 50,000 eCards had already been sent.

Dr. Matthew Hogben, Chief of Behavioral Interventions at the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Division of STD Prevention says government sponsored efforts are stretched to the breaking point, so private initiatives like this are critical.  He describes, "There aren't enough trained (government) people to go around.  It's a stretch. There are over 300,000 gonorrhea cases, over a million of chlamydia cases. ... (Government information programs were) useful for 20,000, but you can't expand (them) to millions."



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Damn...
By Brandon Hill (blog) on 12/2/2008 10:33:58 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
"Who? What? When? Where? It doesn't matter. I got an STD; you might have it too. Please get checked out."


Wow, just wow. I guess it's better than not telling the person at all, but at least have a freaking backbone and call the person or tell them face to face.




RE: Damn...
By tastyratz on 12/2/2008 11:11:35 AM , Rating: 2
Its an excellent initiative. Don't give people that much credit to think they might do the right thing with bravery. While its the right thing to do, most people don't really have a backbone to do it. This is the best way to get people to do the right thing, and I am totally for it.
I would rather know anonymously than not be told personally. When health and safety are concerned, everything counts.


RE: Damn...
By phxfreddy on 12/2/2008 1:53:10 PM , Rating: 1
AIDs is winnowing the gene pool and somewhat correctly at that. In fact reality / physical nature is by definition always correct because you can not fight the laws of physics.

The only problem I see is not enough congressmen and senators have AIDs. Other than that its all good.


RE: Damn...
By KingstonU on 12/2/2008 3:01:05 PM , Rating: 2
I think of the people who are angry for getting AIDS and purposely giving it to people by sticking infected needles in theater seats, under gas pump handles, phone booths coin returns etc... to people who do not get involved in behavior that puts them at risk.


RE: Damn...
By Samus on 12/3/2008 1:38:23 AM , Rating: 1
A girl lied to me about having an STD via text. Of course I freaked the fuck out and got checked only to find out she wanted to know 'how i'd react'

some people are a piece of work


"full-blown AIDS"
By UNHchabo on 12/2/2008 12:19:21 PM , Rating: 2
Is it just me, or was this phrase not in common usage until Family Guy made that song? :)




RE: "full-blown AIDS"
By InvertMe on 12/3/2008 11:59:19 AM , Rating: 2
Just you -

They used this term a lot when I was in middle school. We used to have 2 or 3 assemblies a year about Aids awareness. Seems Aids isn't so popular anymore or people worry about bigger (or actually probably smaller) things because I have not heard of any Aids awareness/prevention function in my area in many years.

But yeah the term is old.


So why is this not spamming?
By jimbojimbo on 12/2/2008 1:05:12 PM , Rating: 2
Sending unsolicited text messages should be treated the same legally as unsolicited faxes because it costs money. If someone sends a million messages out that's one million text messages out of people's monthly allotment or the $.10 each it'll cost if they don't pay for a plan. If they do this in the US I say class action lawsuit time.




RE: So why is this not spamming?
By Suntan on 12/2/2008 1:31:51 PM , Rating: 2
except when the text messages don't count against you. Like the free texts messages that t your provider sends you.

They could easily get the providers to send them out without charging the receipients... "Do you want to be the only provider in your nation that charges people to read a nationally generated message about their health?"

But yeah, I can see how you would be so upset over it. I assume you'd call your provider up and complain if they sent out a free txt message asking you to look out for a young girl that had been kidnapped in your area? I mean, the eventual sodomy and killing of the little girl is not as important as you having to deal with a free txt message every once in a while, right?

-Suntan


InSpot.org
By Snoop on 12/2/2008 11:48:31 AM , Rating: 2
InSpot.org
My friends will enjoy receiving these !




By AstroCreep on 12/2/2008 11:32:16 PM , Rating: 2
u now have aids <3




Phone sex?
By PandaBear on 12/2/2008 11:38:56 PM , Rating: 2
"South Africa, U.S. Citizens Turn to Text Messages, E-Cards to Fight STDs"

By substituting physical sex with phone sex, South African citizen reduced AIDS to almost zero.




I Live There
By lickerish on 12/3/2008 1:40:02 AM , Rating: 2
Being a South African citizen and working for a wonderful organisation called Treatment Action Campaign, I can certainly say that this is something which is the ideal communications tool, most of the coutry has cellular coverage, about 90% of the population has access to Cellphones, while only 10% have access to internet services. So to make a mark we use sms services, another thing that alot of organisations this side are looking at is Instant Messaging services such as MXit, which is a J2ME based app, with a reach of about 10 million users. Most of them youngsters aged 8 and up.




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