Volunteers in Namibia Use Text Messaging for Health Education

July 22, 2009

Innovative project provides answers on many health issues, including HIV/AIDS

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 22, 2009 Health Education Response (HER), software developed by Peace Corps Volunteers Rashid Khan of Phoenix, Ariz., and Jennifer Moore of Gillette, Wyo., has revolutionized health education in Namibia. HER utilizes software designed to provide health information through mobile phone-based SMS, also known as text messaging, permitting the program to operate nationwide.

The HER program distributes health information through pre-written content on major topics, and also forwards user questions to a pool of Peace Corps Volunteers prepared to field a wide array of health-related inquiries including topics related to HIV/AIDS and birth control. In June 2009, the system exchanged 2,382 SMSs with 325 unique clients.

Peace Corps acting Director Jody K. Olsen said, The Health Education Response program is a great example of Peace Corps Volunteers who are working with local partners to find creative solutions to solve local problems. It is a wonderful innovation to harness widely available technology in the fight against HIV/AIDS."

The program launched in February as a completely automated database consisting of only pre-written content and a listing of ARV clinics. The program later expanded to allow callers the option to speak with a real live person who is knowledgeable on a broad range of health subjects.

Said Peace Corps/Namibia Director Hannah Baldwin, The beauty of the system is that it permits people to ask questions they would not ask directly, and provides excellent information in a non-threatening way.

Currently, HER is staffed by 11 Peace Corps Volunteers and a counselor from Childline/Lifeline, a non-profit counseling hotline that fields user questions. The program is constantly being updated as conversations with Volunteers are tracked and analyzed, and common discussion themes and keywords are identified.

Khan explained, We can track down to the occurrence how often a theme, such as condoms, HIV, or pregnancy is brought up. This data can be assembled into reports that can be used to create other programs. Other organizations are also taking an interest in this initiative. Weve managed to secure the support of MTC, Namibias largest mobile phone provider, who will be providing us no-cost service,

As the Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world. Historically, over 195,000 Volunteers have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries in which they have served. Currently, 7,876 Peace Corps Volunteers are serving in 76 countries. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment.

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