ICTs in the Fight Against HIV and AIDS in Africa

Information and Communication Technologies can offer key opportunities for organisations, communities and people living with HIV and AIDS, to intensify their efforts in the mitigation of the epidemic. Exploratory research conducted in Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique revealed that people working in the field of HIV and AIDS are interested in the use of ICTs. Yet the high cost of equipment and maintenance as well as limited knowledge and skills for using ICTs were highlighted as barriers to effective use of ICTs. Participants suggested that the use of ICTs made assist to improve the flow of HIV and AIDS between communities in the southern African region, to promote advocacy and networking on a global level and provide support the health care systems.

Recommendations from the research included the implementation of a process of vision building and awareness creation among   AIDS Service Organisations (ASOs) on the potential use of cost effective ICTs. In addition, it was also recommended that smaller pilot projects need to be created, providing internet access to community radio programmes through the development of community access points.

HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa

The HIV and AIDS epidemic is the greatest development challenge facing the Sub Saharan Africa today. UNAIDS (2005) estimates that currently 25.8 million people are living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, as compared to 25.4 million in 2004. Although the region accounts for only 10% of the world’s population, it is home to two thirds (60%) of all people living with HIV.

In 2004, seven of the ten countries in the southern Africa region reported prevalence rates over 15% (Table 1).Over the past twenty years, the epidemic has eroded many of the development gains. Overall life expectancy has decreased and morbidity and mortality have increased.

UNAIDS (2005) reports that approximately 2.7 million deaths of adults and children in sub-Saharan Africa were caused by AIDS. This accounts for 87% of all AIDS related deaths in the world.  However, UNAIDS Global HIV/AIDS report (2005) shows that adult HIV infection rates have decreased in some countries. This has been attributed to behaviour change as reflected by increased use of condoms, delay of first sexual experience and fewer sexual partners; yet, it is important to note that the overall trends continue.

Exploring ICTs more to mitigate HIV/AIDS

Recognising the potential of ICTs, SIDA (Swedish International Development Agency) and its affiliate SPIDER (Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions) commissioned research to explore the opportunities for using ICTs in mitigating HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa. Using a participatory approach, the study focused on three countries, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique. It addresses two key questions:

( i )   how   can   ICTs   contribute   to   the empowerment of people living with HIV/AIDS and (ii) how can ICT improve ongoing and planned HIV/AIDS programmes in the region. In this research, a literature review was conducted to explore current and existing research on the use of ICTs within HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment programmes in southern Africa.  Using a participatory approach, researchers explored

Table 1: HIV and AIDS prevalence among adults (15 – 49) by the end of 2003 in selected countries

Country     Adults Adults with HIVWomen with HIV (%)
1Angola220 0003.9130 000
2Botswana330 00037.3 190 000
3Lesotho300 00028.9170 000
4Malawi810 00014.2460 000
5Mozambique1 200 00012.2670 000
6Namibia200 00021.3110 000
7South Africa5 100 00021.52 900 000
8Swaziland200 00038.8110 000
9Zambia830 00016.5470 000
10Zimbabwe1 600 00024.6 930 000

the perceptions and experiences of HIV and AIDS organisations in three countries (Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique) with regard to the use of ICTs in their work. Data were collected and analysed, using a variety of qualitative methods such as focus group discussions, informal interviews and participant observation. Recommendations for exploring and expanding the use of ICTs within HIV and AIDS were developed.

What’s revealed, what’s needed

In the three countries, participants from the focus group discussions emphasised that ICTs could be instrumental in mitigating HIV and AIDS. In particular, participants emphasised the role of ICTs in documenting and sharing experiences, enhancing networking, improving HIV and AIDS knowledge management, and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV and AIDS programmes and health care services. Key barriers for using ICTs can be divided into two: 1) internal challenges such as the cost and expense of purchasing and maintaining ICT equipment and services as well as the lack of capacity to use ICTs among NGOs and ASOs, and 2) external barriers such as high illiteracy rate among clients and poor infrastructure in large regions of the country.

To enhance the use ICTs within HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment programmes, participants emphasised that several basic conditions need to be put in place. These include:

  • Improved coverage of basic infrastructure for telecommunication, data communication and electricity supply;
  • Enhanced capacity of individuals and organisations to use, operate and maintain ICTs;
  • Improved capacity of target audiences and clients of NGOs,

CBOs and ASOs to access and use ICTs;

  • Improved capacity of information producers to use ICTs to create and communicate accurate, relevant information on HIV and AIDS and other health issues.

Participant s   also provided recommendations on ICTs interventions, which may strengthen the quality and coordination of HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment programmes. It was suggested that ICT programmes should focus on:

  • Developing a platform for vision building, planning, coordination, monitoring and evaluation amongst the HIV/AIDS stakeholders groups and support a coordinated multi-sectoral approach in countering HIV/AIDS;
  • Providing access to vital information which can support individuals to shield against the worst effects of the epidemic;
  • Rehabilitating health delivery systems through the application of ICT for distance counselling and logistic support;
  • Make use of existing traditional and modern ICT programmes, such as existing community based radio networks.

Need of pilot projects

Based upon the priorities defined in this research, pilot projects are proposed to explore the viability and impact of the recommended interventions. Pilot projects recommended include:

  • The establishment of Community Access Points (CAP)
  • Developing and implementing system for distance consult and improved logistic support for drug distribution are also required.
  • Support research on ‘expert’ systems
  • Facilitating the process of awareness and vision building on how ICT can be used in prevention and care is another necessity.

Since the completion of the research, several projects and programmes have or will be started which focus on strengthening the use of ICTs and HIV/AIDS in the southern African region. The numbers of best practices in this field are limited and therefore, it was recommended to research and share experiences in an effort to strengthen knowledge around ICTs and HIV/AIDS.

ICT to be use by HACO 

The Health Action Charity Organisation is a registered charity based in the Medway Area in the United Kingdom.Established in 2003, HACO uses information as a tool to enhance dialogue and catalyse social change within communities of practice in order to significantly scale-up the regional HIV/AIDS response. With support from local partners, HACO currently implements its programmes amongst the African Communities in the Medway Area in the United Kingdom and The NOAF in Nigeria. HACO’s core activities include capacity development; information production, collection and dissemination; networking and building partnerships, and promoting dialogue and debate on cutting-edge issues related to HIV and AIDS. In its future programmes, HACO will explore new and available technologies in an effort to increase its reach and impact.­

HACO to introduce ICT in the fight against HIV/AIDS;

Health Action Charity Organisation (HACO) aware of the big gap that exists in raising awareness about HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is planning to introduce the use of ICT relayed information in Schools where no such facilities exist. In the majority of rural schools across Africa, computers are non existent, however judging from the enthusiasm which most of the children who attend these schools together with their dedicated and hard working teacher it is imperative that much can be achieve if accesses to computers and internet networks are made possible.

This project will be initiated simultaneously in the Benin City in the Federal Republic of Nigeria where we have an on going project on the fight against HIV and the newly born state of South Sudan where all structures are starting from the scratch. However the success of this project will depend on the generosity of our partners, friends, and donors. At this initial stage look towards the Higher Institutions of Learning in the United Kingdom and Ireland to donate their used Computers, USBs , Servers, projects to this humanitarian cause. I strongly believe that   we can find warm hearts and giving hands from these institutions. As we intend to train the school teacher on how to deliver teaching materials which will help to raise awareness amongst students from both sexes, w hope that it will also initial fruitful debate on how best these young people can conduct themselves in the face of this pandemic and go on to become not only health role models but also health Champions.

The use of Computers in the HIV labs in the school certainly to attract school children because of it being a new thing in their settings, however it will also in the long run open the horizons of wider knowledge and an endless window to the outside world. In the nascent state of South Sudan for example, peace means the returning of thousands who were largely displaced to the refuge camps of East Africa where HIV/AIDS rate are very high.  Although neighbouring countries like Uganda has developed very much material on how to help people change their attitudes and life styles in order to fight the spread of the HIV epidemic, these materials can only be accessed by school children of South Sudan through an accessible computer based project.

Once HACO has everything in place, we intend to send a team to Nigeria and South Sudan. Much of the trip will be involved in working with children, young people and schools. As people with special interest in extending education and awareness we remain overwhelmed by the challenges in African classrooms. The dedication of the teachers and desire of the children for learning will continue to provide us with the needed aspiration. Through the generous support of our different partners, we hope to take teams to trips to Nigeria and South Sudan. These visits will focus on working with teachers and students.

As a key focus of providing educational resources for teachers and students we plan to establish a network computer lab at our centres in Benin City (Nigeria) and Mundri Town (South Sudan) The lab will include a server that provides a wide variety of educational material in a web based format.