There is a desperate need for access to healthcare information in Africa. Closing the HIV ‘prevention gap’ is crucial says new research. Poor access to healthcare information in Africa is failing the young!
David Deakin, Director of Healthcare and NGO Services for BluPoint Ltd sees evidence of this on his recent trip to Malawi.
The prevention gap
In many African countries, HIV rates are still at an unacceptably high rate. UNAIDS has identified a ‘prevention gap’ (PDF), where young people don’t know how to safely protect themselves from HIV. Whilst great progress is being made on treating HIV with antiretrovirals, the number of new infections is declining far too slowly.
Progress on preventing HIV infections among adults has stalled in recent years. The rates of new HIV infections among young women and girls and their male sexual partners in high-prevalence settings in Africa remains unacceptably high, and among key populations globally they have hardly changed since 2010.
Research in Malawi
On a recent visit to southern Malawi, where only half of the people living with HIV are receiving treatment, I saw evidence of this ‘prevention gap’ myself whilst conducting research amongst young people from a peri-urban setting.
The research was undertaken on behalf of Avert with their partner in Malawi, the Umunthu Foundation, which provides HIV testing, antenatal care, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health in 3 locations near Blantyre in Malawi.
The research confirmed that the majority of people currently access healthcare information through the radio and via magazines. The group of mainly women all lived within an hours walk of the clinic and the majority were aged between 16-25 and included some living with HIV, some pregnant and some making a living as sex workers.
Few have access to the Internet (hardly anyone has a computer in Malawi) but over 90% of this representative group owned a mobile phone (mixture of Smart and Feature phones). Yet very few had ever used their phone to connect to the Internet. This is due to the prohibitive costs of data downloads from their mobile operator and for those with Smartphones and Wi–Fi, the costs of even accessing through WiFi hotspots!
Young people in high prevalence countries need more than condoms and behaviour change communications. They also require comprehensive sexuality education and access to effective HIV and sexual and reproductive health services without economic barriers
Introducing free access to healthcare information
I was able to introduce the women to BluPoint which was preloaded with a vast library of digital resources about HIV and health messaging including educational videos from Medical Aid Films and episodes from the MTV Foundation soap opera Shuga. Within a few seconds they were all ‘side loading’ the rich content from a Hub without incurring any airtime (data) costs at speeds in excess of 4G. Whether using a Smart or Feature phone they could all easily access the content. With BluPoint’s solar charging and 15 hour battery life even the power outages, so frequent in Malawi, were not a problem!
Staff and clients were keen to see BluPoint being used in all of the waiting areas in the 3 Umunthu supported sites and wanted information on health related subjects such as sexual and reproductive health, male circumcision, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition etc.
BluPoint is social impact business passionately seeking to positively impact the lives of 20 million people in 20,000 communities by 2020 through enabling digital in non-digital environments.
Learn more about BluPoint’s Healthcare Solutions