The Vodafone Foundation is pioneering a mobile phone-based HIV programme designed to scale-up HIV treatment programmes in Lesotho, where an estimated 23% of the population is HIV positive.

Vodafone recently launched the new programme, developed in conjunction with the Lesotho Ministry of Health to reach more HIV positive patients, many of whom live in remote rural communities separated by mountainous terrain with minimal infrastructure.

The programme combines Vodafone’s M-Pesa mobile money service – which is widely used across sub-Saharan Africa – with travelling clinics and a smartphone app designed for healthcare professionals which enables the tracking of patients in remote areas.

The clinics use a fleet of 4x4s vehicles to travel to remote areas and provide on-site HIV testing. When people are identified as HIV positive, they are immediately registered with the M-Pesa mobile money service and receive the M-Pesa funds needed to pay for transportation to a treatment centre.

At the same time, their details are recorded – via mobile – on a central database so that their future treatment and care can be planned and recorded. These details can then be recalled in real time by healthcare professionals in the field using a smartphone app produced by the Vodafone Foundation and Vodacom Lesotho.

While the programme is oriented towards pregnant women, mothers and young children, early infant diagnosis remains low. It’s estimated that some 5,000 children under the age of 14 go undiagnosed and are living with HIV. This means they are at risk of not being identified in time to be put on treatment.

This is in addition to the 7,000 children already diagnosed with HIV who require ongoing specialist HIV treatment.

The mobile clinics are run in partnership with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) and Riders for Health. The wider programme is in partnership with USAID, ViiV Healthcare, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Elma Philanthropies, among others.

“HIV is an immense healthcare crisis for the people of Lesotho,” said Vodafone Foundation Director, Andrew Dunnett.

“This pioneering Vodafone Foundation programme will ensure that thousands of mothers and young children in some of the poorest communities in the world receive the care and support they need,” continued Dunnett.

The Lesotho government welcomed the outcomes from the trial in the Maseru and Leribe districts and has committed to funding and expanding the strategy in the future.

The costs of the programme will be fully funded by the Lesotho government from mid-2017. This is expected to be followed by a full roll-out across the other Lesotho districts.

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