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Mobile phones fighting AIDS in Africa

Mobile phones fighting AIDS in Africa

The head of the UN's AIDS agency (UNAIDS) has spoken out about the power of mobile phones in the ongoing battle against the sexually transmitted disease that is ravaging the world's poorest nations.

Michel Sidibe said that the lack of adequate facilities and funding in African nations made it impossible for the UN to tackle AIDS in a traditional way.

However, a hotline in Nigeria that allows citizens to make free calls over their mobile phones to talk about any concerns they have relating to HIV and AIDS could prove a vital bulwark against the spread of the disease, he said.

Mr Sidibe explained that the advantage of the mobile service was that "you don't have to move from your place to a centre where... you may be stigmatised. You have free communication and quality advice, which can help you take a decision."

The agency plans to get local volunteers who are part of the health service connected via mobile phones to help improve the health care that is available in the most isolated regions.

Official UNAID figures show that nearly 70 per cent of all AIDS cases in the world are concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, which demonstrates that years of charitable donations have done little to alleviate the problem.

In an interview with APF, Mr Sidibe said that the solution must come from within local communities, as centralised solutions had so far failed to make an impact.

Despite widespread poverty in Africa, many people use mobile phones as their only means of communication with the outside world. There are more mobiles on the African continent than there are in North America, with 70 million subscribers living in Nigeria alone.

With a basic course in symptom identification, UNAIDS is able to send out members of disparate communities with enough information to help diagnose common illnesses, including AIDS and then get help over the phone from call centres staffed by qualified medical professionals.

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