Project Masiluleke Continues to Transform Mobile Healthcare in South Africa

Project M

Speakers Robert Fabricant and Gustav Praekelt took to the PopTech stage to talk about the next chapter for Project Masiluleke, an innovative effort to leverage mobile technologies and a bold self-diagnosis campaign to combat South Africa’s crippling HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics.

In the two years since Project M launched, the initiative has proven itself to be a transformative intervention that allows public health initiatives to directly reach the public. It helped create a self-testing kit that allows people to learn their HIV status from the privacy of their homes, and despite the pronounced social stigma surrounding the disease. According to Praekelt, Project M has also delivered more than 800 million text messages, at no cost to users and while generating revenue for local phone operators. In addition, the project has also established a successful AIDS help line, which has received about 1.5 million calls to date.

Project M’s success demonstrates the real world impact of PopTech, says Fabricant. The idea for the project emerged in response to Zinny Thabethe’s appearance at the PopTech 2006 conference. HIV positive herself, Zinny has been fighting to reverse the course of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Moved by her story, an interdisciplinary mix of partners that included Fabricant, of frog design, Praekelt, of the Praekelt Foundation, and representatives from iTeach.

The initiative also received critical support from PopTech’s Accelerator, a social innovation incubator that works to sustain the earliest stages of transformative initiatives. It’s tempting for designers to think they’ve solved something, says Fabricant, when there’s often a huge gap between bright ideas and actually achieving something worthwhile. The initial creative plan for Project M only took a few days, yet implementing the project and ensuring that it would be sustainable proved to be a far greater challenge. “Who is going to do all the messy, dirty things," asks Fabricant. "This is what PopTech did for two years, on every level imaginable.”

In May 2010, Project M won the prestigious 2010 Impumelelo Sustainability Award. Now that the initiatives has demonstrated its effectiveness within communities, the award grant will be used to build public awareness about the project itself.

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