Text Messaging: A New Direction in AIDS Awareness


Media consultants in Africa are adding one more element to the awareness campaign about AIDS…text messaging. In a recent Newsweek article titled “R U Positive?” it’s noted that “the country has the highest incidence of HIV-positive citizens of anywhere in the world. In some areas, 40 percent of people are infected. But despite those numbers, and despite the campaigns, only about 2 percent of South Africans have ever even been tested.”

Awareness campaigns display billboards and posters but these are not making an impact. Media consultant Gustav Praekelt of the Praekelt Foundation states, “There are a lot of campaigns out there, and a lot of different messages. But the messages are so generic… It’s like, ‘You must get tested.’ Well, then what?” The foundation has recently started sending SMS messages to the community asking them to call for AIDS information. Since starting this program last month the foundation has seen enormous interest, “in this first trial period, calls almost immediately quadrupled to 4,000 per day. The results suggest something pretty simple: direct messages received on a personal mobile device are proving more effective than countless giant billboards.”

How can the success of the text messages compare to the typical awareness campaigns though? “If just 1 percent of those reached by the 365 million messages that will be sent out in the next year actually get tested, that number will exceed the number of South Africans tested in the whole of the country’s history.”

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