Youth HIV/Aids portal goes live

Read time 4min 20sec

A new local mobile platform, aiming to bring increased information and engagement surrounding HIV and Aids, debuts today, on World Aids Day.

The mobile portal, Young Africa Live, will deliver HIV/Aids and other health information on the Vodafone Live WAP portal, according to Gustav Praekelt, MD of the Praekelt Foundation. The foundation initiated and developed the project, with mobile partner Vodacom providing free hosting.

”The aim is to create a space on Vodafone Live where young people can talk and read about love, relationships, safe sex and sexual health - to which HIV/Aids is central,” he explains.

According to the foundation, the portal provides a platform for the youth to share ideas and issues relevant to them. “When you swap and share, you create an environment of communal education, one which you can contribute to, and benefit from. This is the motivation behind Young Africa Live.”

Users will be able to read and post comments on mobile blogs, complete an HIV-quiz, and find practical advice on how to deal with issues like stigma, obtaining ARVs and their effectiveness, disclosing sexual issues to close family, and dealing with opportunistic infections.

Other features include the Metropolitan 'B the Future' cellbook, a guide on HIV and Aids downloadable from a user's cellphone, and help and testing site contact numbers. The plan is to add more quizzes and competitions, games, ringtones, wallpapers, and clinic locators, adds Praekelt.

Browsing the portal, downloading information, or taking quizzes will be free to Vodacom subscribers, he says, with hopes to expand the service to the other networks in the near future.

Content partners include Cell-Life, iTeach, the Metropolitan Foundation's 'B the Future' cellbook, Mindset Health, Matchboxology and the John Hopkins Scrutinize Campaign.

For the month of December, the portal's daily blogs will be about HIV and other sexual health issues, but in coming months, says Praekelt, they will also focus on other health and wellness themes, like gender violence and employment.

“We see Young Africa Live eventually becoming Africa's central news and information hub for all youth-oriented issues relating to matters of health, sexual health and gender.”

Making mobile work

According to Praekelt, portals like Vodafone Live and MTN Loaded draw huge audiences each month, but contain very little information about issues that affect the youth, including love, sex, relationships, gender, and HIV- and Aids-related topics.

“The idea was to harness the space on these portals and share information in a fun, funky, positive way to get young people talking and to break down the stigma around topics such as HIV and Aids,” he explains.

It's no longer a case of being spoken to, but an opportunity to get involved.

Gustav Praekelt, MD, Praekelt Foundation

“It's no longer a case of being spoken to, but an opportunity to get involved,” notes Praekelt. “The more users understand that their problems are shared by others, the more they're likely to realise the only way to tackle these issues is to do it together. It's a case of the youth figuring out solutions for themselves.”

Praekelt says mobile platforms are effective for conditions like HIV/Aids, because of the stigma attached. “South Africans are still not talking openly about this disease. Cellphone-based communication is personal and private; you might ignore a billboard or choose not a pick up an HIV flier, but if that same message is on your phone, you will engage with it.

“It is also the most cost-effective means of communicating with people living in poverty.”

Cell-Life's MD, Peter Benjamin, says mobile provides various applications relevant to combating HIV and Aids issues. “On World Aids Day, there will be hundreds of community events all around the country, with mobile helping to get people to the right place. People can SMS a number to receive information on events in their area.”

Young Africa Live is one of many services being promoted by the South African National Aids Council (SANAC). Other services being made available by SANAC and Cell-Life include receiving information on HIV by sending a “please call me” message to 079 706 4014; finding a nearby World Aids Day event, by sending a blank SMS to 30060; and viewing a directory of services for HIV information and help, by dialling *120*923#. These services are available on all handsets.

Users with more advanced phones can get HIV information and counselling on Mxit by going to Tradepost>MXit Mix>My Culture>Red (about 1c to read HIV content and talk to a counsellor); receive a mobile book by SMSing one of the following: EHIV (English), ZHIV (Zulu), SHIV (Sotho) or AHIV (Afrikaans) to 32907 (R1 for the SMS and a standard data charge of about 30c to download); or learn more about HIV basics by browsing (R2 per MB).

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