Thanks to the donation from Africa Matters Ltd, the ChalkerFoundation has been supporting an innovative and high impact initiative in Pretoria, South Africa, that uses group cell phone chats to give adolescents the space where they can chat about everything from the HIV medication to sex, relationships, and social issues.
In South Africa the challenges represented by HIV are now critical with 15 percent of young women and 5 percent of young men aged 14-24 infected with HIV. Many of these adolescents lack the right support structures to help them navigate living with HIV so that they can go on to live healthy and prosperous lives.
The project, called Khuluma, involves facilitators who monitor the chats to identify teenagers who are depressed, mentally ill or are not adhering to their anti-retroviral treatment. It has also enlisted mentors who run support groups to tackle relevant issues, such as depression, isolation and discrimination. The adolescents have the opportunity to provide direct input into the support they receive and can come up with topics that they want to discuss, such as sexual health, nutrition, or career advice. As a result of this, there has been a significant increase in social support and decrease in levels of internalised stigma and attributed stigma amongst the participants. The project has worked with over 120 HIV positive adolescents in Pretoria and Cape Town, including analysing over 40,000 SMSs sent over the past year.
According to Ajay Mehta, the Chalker Foundation’s Coordinator, “the decision to support this project was simple. In South Africa, as in many other African countries, levels of stigma remain high and many suffer from different degrees of anxiety and depression that can lead to non-compliance of medical treatment. Until recently, most of the focus has been on biomedical outcomes, which are critical, but there has been a lack of attention on the provision of psychological support, leaving HIV-positive adolescents without regular support and counseling. The idea is simple and uses basic everyday mobile phone technology, however we are convinced that the impact this has on the lives of young people is significant, resulting in such positive health and psycho-social outcomes.”