Cellphones4HIV, March 2009
behaviour change communications: 3 pilot projects
Katherine de Tolly and Helen Alexander, Cell-Life, Cape Town
The opportunities in South Africa for using mobile technologies to support initiatives in the
HIV/AIDS sector are enormous. A huge number of people have cellphone access, and there
are a range of innovative ways in which cellphones can be used to support treatment,
disseminate information, provide anonymous counselling, gather data and link patients to
Cell-Life is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa, that seeks to improve the lives of
people infected and affected by HIV through the appropriate use of technology. This paper
describes three pilot interventions that use cellphones for behaviour change communication,
ie that are experimenting with different cellphone technologies to disseminate information,
undertaken as part of Cell-Life’s Cellphones4HIV project: ARV adherence SMSs, USSD
content delivery and content delivery via MXit. Challenges around measuring impact in
behaviour change communications are briefly discussed, and some of Cell-Life’s upcoming
initiatives are outlined.
points out in his 2006 literature review of the subject, “There is almost no literature
on using mobile telephones as a healthcare intervention for HIV, TB, malaria, and chronic
conditions in developing countries”. Although the initiatives discussed in this paper are very
much in their infancy, we hope that by sharing our ideas and approaches with others in the
field we will generate discussion around some of the practicalities of mHealth.
Cell-Life has initiated a project called “Cellphones4HIV”, which looks at how mobile
technology can be used in the prevention, treatment and care of HIV and AIDS, and to
support the HIV sector in general.
In South Africa there are approximately 36 million active cellphone users, and around 80% of
all youth and adults have a cellphone
. This level of cellphone penetration makes mobile a
potential ‘mass media’ in South Africa. Given that the World Health Organization has
concluded that mass media campaigns are one of the ‘best buys’ when it comes to HIV
, there is an imperative to look at how cellphones can be harnessed to this end.
For millions of people living with HIV and others affected by the epidemic, there is an unmet
need for information regarding the disease, and for communication with support structures.
Information needs vary from basic information on prevention to detailed information on the
course of the disease and its treatment, called ‘treatment literacy’.
There are many organisations working to produce such information (eg the SA Department of