Now, a mobile application called HELP (HIV Education and Linkage to Prevention) will provide complete information on HIV, increase awareness and risk perception.
The app will also prompt users to access HIV testing from the nearest centre free of cost. Ensuring confidentiality, with bi-lingual facility and easy compatibility, it is expected to reach more than 11 crore people across urban and rural geographies.
HELP app will be available in Google play store and App store, for a country with 200 million mobile Internet users, it is expected to reach over 11 crore people across the country.
The innovative mobile app was launched by the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in collaboration with AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Department of Telecommunications and National AIDS Control Organization.
J P Nadda, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, said that technology can open up endless opportunities to reach the young with authentic information on the services on HIV and AIDS. “Technology and youth are inseparable, however, inadequate access to information and complex messages from various sources can confuse the youth,” he said.
Nadda impressed on the need for using technology to guide and educate youth. “There is a dire need to motivate, inform and guide them. This mobile application, aptly titled, HIV education and linkage to prevention (HELP), will bridge the gap helping the youth to know their HIV status. It will transmit information personally to each of them which is a step ahead of door to door health services.”
The Government of India estimates
About 2.40 million Indians are living with HIV
83% are the in age group 15-49 years
39% (930,000) are among women
The epidemic is largely concentrated in only a few states — in the industrialized south and west, and in the north east - with 4 accounting for 55% and another 4 for an additional 22%
Most women are from rural India
Sexual transmission is responsible for 87.4 percent of reported HIV cases
According to WHO, addressing the issue of human rights violations and creating an enabling environment that increases knowledge and encourages behavior change are extremely important to the fight against AIDS. The National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and numerous NGOs and CBOs are working on HIV/AIDS issues in India at the local, state, and national levels. India also receives technical assistance and funding from a variety of UN partners and bilateral donors - The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Avahan program, Clinton Health Access Initiative, DFID, GFATM, USG (USAID, CDC and PEPFAR), UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and WHO.
The main challenges faced are:
Availability of resources to meet the challenge
Insufficient personnel to address the issue in rural areas in form of government officials, healthcare providers, educators
Lack of internal funds to fight AIDS and HIV with the government. It has to rely on international agencies and NGOs to fund the initiatives
Inability to reach the remote rural areas where infections are high. Communities are proarchial and prefer to be by themselves
Lack of use of data for decision makers on programs and epidemiology essential to tailor response to HIV AIDS
Frequent change in government at local, state and national level and frequent policy changes leading to interuptions in efforts towards the cause
High turnover in state level project directors, resulting in limited continuity and variability in performance across states
Social and cultural factors
Unequal power relations and low status of women in society leading to limited access to human, financial, and economic assets. Women are unable to protect themselves and negotiate safer sex both within and outside of marriage
High social stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS. There is harassment by police and ostracism by family and community.
Societal denial especially around men having sex with men, sex workers and their partners and injecting drug users
Poor education around sex in schools and in media
Poor infastructure of hospitals and health care
High cost of healthcare and hospitals preventing affected people from approaching them for cure
Easy access to spiritual, traditional, herbal healers and medicine hawkers which doesnt provide the right treatment but disillusions on being treated whereas in reality there is no treatment.
Bhanu Pratap Sharma, Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, said that the newly launched mobile app would complement the efforts of early testing and treatment. “It is vital that we use newer technologies to reach young people with messages on HIV. We stand committed to prevent the young generation from HIV/AIDS,” he said.
Navneet S Kang, Additional Secretary and DG, NACO, said that this application would enable the young to assess their risk to HIV and then, take a step forward and get themselves tested.
Kang added that HIV affects the people most at the productive or young ages. “There is a gap between the estimated number of people living with HIV and those who have tested and know their status. It is critical that people know their HIV status early so that a healthy and quality life can be led with the help of treatment,” he said.
Michael Weinstein, President, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said that the app would aim to reach the unreached, “The collaboration is strategic as we intend to increase testing and reach the unreached through technology. This can only be achieved by greater identification and technology-based initiatives which can generate awareness about HIV and, thereby, lead to greater testing uptake,” he said.
India is one of the youngest countries in the world with 60% of its population less than 24 years of age. Both the Digital India and Skill India missions are the Prime Minister’s twin promises to the youth of India for a better future. With over 200 million mobile internet users in India, there’s a huge potential to club health services with mobile app technology to maximize outreach and coverage at minimal costs.