LAGOS - Mobile phones might become a key weapon in the war against HIV and Aids in Africa, allowing counsellors to reach greater numbers of people, says the chief of the United Nation's Aids agency.
The technology has a role to play, says Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAids.
"You can talk about different policies, about capacity building, but you can't beat this kind of epidemic with a facility-based approach only," Sidibe says.
A Nigerian mobile telephone operator already runs a toll-free call scheme that links callers to counsellors on HIV-Aids concerns.
"It's a fascinating initiative," says Sidibe. "Its advantage is 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."
With basic intensive training and armed with mobile phones, local community or village workers could be a part of the health service delivery system, he says.
Despite the resources poured into Sub-Saharan Africa for years to combat HIV-Aids, the region remains the world's most heavily affected, accounting for 67percent of HIV infections, according to UNAids' figures. Africa, which despite widespread poverty has relatively large numbers of mobile phone users, should take advantage of the digital revolution to reach out widely, he says.
"It's something we need to start replicating. Remember we have more mobile phones in Africa than in North America," he says.
Nigeria has more than 70million mobile phone subscribers: about one in every two people. A pilot project using mobile phones is under way in Nigeria's Kaduna and Ondo states.
Village workers - who have barely been through secondary school - have been trained to identify symptoms of minor ailments. They tour villages examining patients and use their mobile phones to call up trained medical workers at a major referral centre to get a diagnosis and prescription dictated over the phone.
"Community health workers go out with a mobile phone connected to a central referral hospital, can take temperatures... and doctors at the referral units advise on drugs to administer," says Sidibe. - Sapa-AFP