Mobile phones are changing everything in emerging markets, as people overcome roadblocks to communication and information. Previously isolated communities are getting a taste of access and upward mobility they’ve never known before, causing economies to shift. frog and its partners believe mobile phones can transform healthcare, too. Frog created Project M, an HIV/AIDS support and awareness network driven by text communication.
“The world’s largest field trial in mobile health technology.”
– The Economist
It Starts With Research in the Field
In a partnership between frog, Aricent Group, PopTech, iTeach, Praekelt, Nokia Siemens and others, Project M (short for Project Masiluleke, which means “lend a helping hand” in Zulu) is using mobile technology to tackle the worst HIV epidemic in the world in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, where infection rates are more than 40 percent. This is not the first attempt to address the HIV problems there, but after sending a team to South Africa to do extensive research on the ground with local experts, we believe the system we’ve created is the most effective solution to date.
Almost 90 percent of people in South Africa own a mobile phone, allowing Project M to use mobile technology in three crucial ways: to encourage use of low-cost diagnostic test kits (which frog created; see video, below); to walk patients through the at-home testing process; and to guide people into care should they need it and encourage healthy preventative behaviors if they don’t.
1 Million Texts Per Day
Project M launched its first phase in 2009 when a text message was sent to 1 million phones to encourage people to be tested and treated for HIV/AIDS. The Economist called it “the world’s largest field trial in mobile health technology.” This campaign helped triple the average daily call volume to the National AIDS Helpline, encouraging more than 150,000 people to reach out for information.
Since the initial launch, we’ve done more extensive user testing and added treatment and compliance reminders in the form of an SMS-based alert system for HIV and TB patients. Our long-term goal is to show how mobile technology can positively influence healthcare issues in Africa, so we can build a series of alliances around the world that bring together mobile operators and distributed diagnostics.
The Future of Digital Healthcare
We see a future in which local healthcare providers, NGOs, and government agencies can log onto a website and configure a cost-effective diagnostic solution tailored and scaled to their needs. They will be able to increase access to diagnostic tools and regimens in some of the world’s most under-served regions.
“With hundreds of thousands of people suffering and dying, it’s no longer a question of ‘should we do this?’ or even ‘how should we do this?’ It’s ‘how fast can we do this?’”
– Dr Krista Dong, Director, iTeach