I love how technology is now revolutionizing how we engage with community members in many countries across Africa. When I started as HIV/AIDS Peer Health Educator more than 10 years ago, I loved sharing my stories but didn’t own a laptop or a mobile phone. Then, I usually have to travel a long distance to queue to use internet at one of the ‘functional’ cyber cafes in Calabar, Southern Nigeria. And I had to pay a lot.
Things have since changed. I now own blog and share many campaign stories with folks as a means to empower and mobilize for change. Technology makes it easy.
On Dec. 6 th 2013, I packed my back-pack with a laptop, a cell phone and a digital camera and headed to Cape Town, South Africa through the support from UNFPA- United Nations Population Fund (Eastern and Southern Regional Office) to participate and report at the 17th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). The Conference was themed “Now More Than Ever: Targeting Zero” was derived from the UNAIDS’ vision of striving for “Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths”, but it also highlighted the need to “now more than ever” maintain the commitment to ensure access to treatment for everyone in Africa irrespective of their ability to pay for such treatment
The International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) continue to remain one of the most important events in Africa, contributing towards overcoming the HIV and TB epidemics that grip our region. Sub-Saharan Africa still remains the most affected region with over 22 Million people living with HIV and AIDS and the highest Tuberculosis rates world-wide. Though significant progress has been made through scientific advancements in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of HIV to reduce the mortality and morbidity of AID, Country-level budgetary allocations for Prevention and treatment efforts have declined relatively but for the Global Funds to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria which continues to providing funding and technical support to fights the triple diseases.
Mobile technology on the other hand is helping to fight HIV/AIDS among young Africans through innovative applications like MINDS UPÂ©, mobile app developed to take care of the five tenets of the daily life of a young person that is ‘Movement, Health, Lifestyle, Socialization and Education’. launched at ICASA by Dr. Luis, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS. MINDS UPÂ© help in creating demand and access to HIV, TB and Sexual & Reproductive Health (SRH) information and services for young people, especially young men and women living with HIV. MINDS UPÂ© maps health facilities that provide youth friendly services and whether the service is free or at a cost and provides the physical location of these centres near the person using the app.
While I was reporting and blogging form Cape Town, my friends from AdopTATweep hosted another gathering of innovators and entrepreneurs in Abuja after the success of Abuja +Social Good Summit held in May of 2013. At the event another Mobile app Konjy was introduced. Konjy is the Nigerian local vernacular word for sex. These mobile apps are providing a platform for young people to discuss issues around HIV and SRH. They boast of a wide and useful array of features that will help make young people understand more about safer sex and most importantly their reproductive health and rights.
While Radio continue to be easily accessible by most people, Mobile-based radio platform is also changing the way young people get informed about issues they care about including HIV/AIDS. Yet efforts to increase HIV knowledge among young people remain inadequate. In order to bridge this gap, young people from different parts of Africa are took up bigger roles at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA). UNICEF, in Partnership with the Children’s Radio Foundation of South Africa, sponsored 6 Youth reporters from 3 different African countries (Zambia, South Africa, and Democratic Republic of Congo) to cover ICASA as Youth Reporters. They shared the captured information globally with other young people using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and SoundCloud for audio pieces. Where young people are well informed of HIV risks and prevention strategies, they are changing their behavior in ways that reduces their vulnerability. Technology is helping bridge the gap. For example, in several countries, targeted education via mobile technology has led to delayed sexual debut and increased use of condoms resulting in a decrease in HIV prevalence among young people.