I don’t normally delve into the fray of world news on my blog. Today, in my BBC Daily e-mail, there was a link to a detailed feature which just made me wonder.
It seems that in South Africa, they are now using text messaging to send out info-alerts to urge people to get tested for HIV/AIDS. The statistics associated with it are most interesting and raise questions of a philosophical nature.
There are over 43 million cell and other mobile devices in a country of 49 million people. Almost 95% are prepaid, offering almost total communication coverage. The UN estimates that over 6 million people live with HIV in South Africa. 350,000 people in SA die from AIDS related disease each year. Zinny Thabethe, a HIV activist and organizer with Project Masiluleke, says, “South Africa is the epicentre for the global HIV epidemic. HIV testing is widely available, but only 5% manage to get tested...most people only get a test when they are about to die.” Project originator, Gustav Praekelt, says, “this is the largest ever use of mobile phones for health information.”
(30 million messages were sent out daily in the pilot project. The pilot project revealed that National Aids Hot line calls rose from 1000 to 4000 when the system was used. The system will go live in December, sending out 1,000,000 calls a day.)
It’s not the initiative which I find disturbing. What I find hard to understand, is how and when the development and distribution of technology superseded any moral priority we may have held to insure the survival and health of our world’s citizens. At what point in time did society make it an easier, more obvious and appealing choice for an impoverished population in the grips of an HIV epidemic, to buy a cell phone rather than a condom? I find it paradoxical that technology has now become the default vehicle to initiate what would have been at one time, a grass roots blood testing and education campaign. Is it arrogant of me to wonder why an entire population acquired cell phones before they had access to a successful public health strategy for a preventable disease? It’s great that this project is working, but I am left wondering how the faceless giant known generically as “Technology” morphed into our social and moral consciousness as the priority in our lives. I find it unsettling and thought-provoking.
The project, by the way was developed by a group of technology firms, including Nokia Siemens Networks and HIV charities, design firms and educational organizations such as National Geographic.