• Sexual Health
  • SANAC looks to eHealth to help combat HIV, TB and STIs

    South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) is a voluntary association of institutions established by the national cabinet of the South African Government that embodies the government, private sector and civil society to build a controlled and coordinated response to the HIV, TB and STIs. It's not restricted to AIDS response challenges. Its obligations cover STIs and TB, both of which are associated with HIV and AIDS. SANAC advises the government on related HIV, TB and STI strategies and policies, mobilises resources domestically and internationally to finance projects and monitors progress against targets in the National Strategic Plan (NSP) for HIV and AIDS, TB and STIs (2017-2020). 

    A key focus is working towards the UN 90-90-90 goals i.e. to provide 90% of people with an HIV diagnosis (including 175 000 children) antiretroviral therapy and ensure that 90% of them (including 158 000 children) achieve HIV viral suppression, and attain a 90% treatment success rate for drug-sensitive and 70% for multi-drug resistant TB. 

    SANAC has an ambitious software development programme underway to build tools to support people working locally to combat HIV and AIDS. One of these projects provides a web-application in support of the Focus for Impact approach defined in the NSP. Health Information System Program South Africa (HISP-SA) has partnered with SANAC to build a web-tool that produces heat-maps that show high burden areas and associated factors affect different communities. It is already supporting decision-making for coordination of interventions planned locally. HISP's Greg Rowles and Jaco Venter have built the technical aspects, for SANAC. The team was led by SANAC's Petro Rousseau.

    SANAC has set eight NSP goals, each supported by clear objectives and sub-objectives and activities to realise them:

    Accelerate prevention to reduce new HIV and TB infections and STIs Reduce morbidity and mortality by providing HIV, TB and STI treatment, care and adherence support for allReach all key and vulnerable populations with customised and targeted interventionsAddress the social and structural drivers of HIV, TB and STIs, and link these e orts to the NDP Ground the response to HIV, TB and STIs in human rights principles and approachesPromote leadership and shared accountability for a sustainable response to HIV, TB and STIs Mobilise resources to support the achievement of NSP goals and ensure a sustainable response Strengthen strategic information to drive progress towards achievement of the NSP goals 

    Thursday 13 July, SANAC's Petro Rousseau and Western Cape's Robin Dyers presented on GIS and HIV at ESRI's Applying the Science of Where Users Conference in San Diego. HISP's Jaco Venter was also there as technical support to the team.

  • Check your sexual health at home with Everlywell

    Most Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), sometimes referred to as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), do not reveal their symptoms initially. This covert nature creates a risk of passing the disease on to other people.

    The WHO says there’s a daily global prevalence of more than a million acquired STD. Trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are the most common STDs. Globally, they’re responsible for 143 million, 131 million, 78 million, and 5.6 million infections respectively. 

    In 2015, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a record increase of STDs in the age group between 15 and 24 years old. Over 1.5 million chlamydia cases and 400,000 new cases of gonorrhea were reported. These alarming rates propelled Everlywell to add STDs testing to their repertoire to equip young people with a simple, hassle-free way to access tests.

    Everlywell, based in Austin Texas, launched its diagnostic testing kit last September. It offers a digital platform which provides a convenient at-home testing for clients says an article in MobiHealthNews. By avoiding numerous doctors’ appointments and lab results, Everlywell provides online test orders with required samples sent to the nearest certified laboratory for analysis. Here, expert physicians review the results and report them back online after a few days. It’s like Computerised Physician Order Entry (CPOE) with patients replacing physicians.

    The STD diagnostic test kit costs $249. It deals with diseases such as HIV, syphilis, herpes type 2, gonorrhea and chlamydia. In cases of abnormal results, like testing positive for a curable or incurable condition, trained physicians follow-up, provide prescriptions for required medications and, for life changing results, will provide counselling services and guide you through the next steps.

    Young people globally face many barriers when they access or receive reproductive health services and quality STD prevention and management services. This is especially true for many African countries that don’t have the resources to allocate to STD prevention and treatment.  These barriers include, lack of transportation, long waiting times, conflicts between clinic hours and work or school schedules, embarrassment and stigma attached to seeking STD services, and concerns about privacy and confidentiality. Consequently, many would rather suffer in silence than try to seek help. By enabling people to perform STD tests in the comfort of their own homes, Everlywell, bridges these gaps. It encourages and increases STD testing, and provides a frequent, easier, less embarrassing and more convenient way to test, treat and manage STDs. For this initiative to succeed in African countries, the cost and healthcare capacity to care for more patients need addressing.

  • eHealth for sexual and reproductive health has challenges

    As a solution for better health, eHealth may not always be straightforward. A team from Mexico and Colombia reviewed the evidence for eHealth and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and found clear progress for eHealth for SRH in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), many persistent institutional and technological challenges too, and the need for more studies should test eHealth’s beneficial effects on improving access to SRH services. It has an important value for Africa’s health systems and their strategies and plan for eHealth in SRH.

    The team describes its study in an article in the Journal of Public Health Policy, Health information technologies for sexual and reproductive health: Mapping the evidence in Latin America and the Caribbean. It includes an evidence map of articles published between 2005 and 2015 about using eHealth to enhance SRH services in LAC countries. Most documents retrieved correspond to information provided by technology developers and primarily for sexually transmitted infection prevention and adolescent health.

    Maternal mortality rates in LAC have dropped by 38% over the past 15 years. Despite this success, LAC faces many challenges in guaranteeing good quality and affordable SRH services, including controlling HIV infection in vulnerable groups, reducing adolescent pregnancies, and high caesarean section delivery rates. eHealth’s widely proposed as an element of a complementary strategy to strengthen health systems.

    There’s a substantial number and type of eHealth and mHealth services available. The percentage distribution across eHealth from the 31 reports included in the study shows SMS and websites as the most used for SRH.

    There were five main health categories in the review, but they’re not mutually exclusive because eHealth covers more than one. HIV is set apart as the main emphasis.

    About two-thirds of the studies focused on free eHealth. Their distribution across SHR service access priority group focus was wide. The international priority was greatest, communities second.

    The study provides a valuable eHealth status for SRH and a foundation to build from for the next stages of eHealth development. There’s more to do. The report shows that the LAC’s recent efforts to increase the use of eHealth for SRH isn’t derived from a general strategy to expand and evaluate eHealth’s use. Learning from successes in other developing countries should be part of the next steps. This’s good advice for Africa’s health systems too.

  • Ask Without Shame one of ten AppsAfrica winners

    Ten winners of the AppsAfrica.com Innovation Awards 2016 were announced at a pan-African mobile and tech awards party in Cape Town, South Africa. This year, the awards attracted over 200 entries from 25 countries. Winners hailed from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

    Ask Without Shame from Uganda won the Social Impact Award. The app allows youths to access medical advices at any time about whatever emergency they’re facing, or questions they may have about sexuality. Medical experts are on hand to offer free and anonymous advice.

    Young people can use the app to access accurate information on their phones about sex, HIV, STDS, body changes, contraception and pregnancy. An easy to use interface makes it possible to access information quickly. If users don’t find the information they need existing categories, they have an option to ask a direct question with guaranteed privacy. Users can also access medical experts by dialing, texting or WhatsApping +256706666001. Users can download the app from Google store by clicking here

    Ask Without Shame was launched during the 1st Uganda Innovation Day on 12 December 2015. It reached 3,000 users in its first three months, and was invited as an emerging African Startup to exhibit and pitch at the biggest worldwide IT expo Ce Bit in Hanover, Germany.

    The service continues to grow. The team plans to expand its range to reach over a million young people in East Africa.

  • SMSing’s still effective in fighting HIV

    Texting young women in Kenya with regular information about sex, contraception, and sexually transmitted diseases has encouraged them to seek HIV tests. This’s an achievement in a country where stigma surrounding the virus is widespread, says an article in allAfrica. Some 600 female college students in Kenya received monthly surveys as text messages about their sexual behavior. In addition, 300 were sent weekly messages about HIV prevention, for a study by mSurvey.

    Two-thirds of the 300 group said they were tested for HIV within six months of the study. Only half of those who had monthly surveys reported testing for the virus. "Young women across Kenya lack knowledge about HIV, but many have mobile phones and love texting," said Njambi Njuguna, a doctor and researcher at Nairobi's Kenyatta National Hospital.

    Over 80% of people in Kenya own a mobile phone, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, a US think tank. "Women like receiving health surveys by text message because it's anonymous and they can do it at their convenience," Njuguna told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of World AIDS Day on 1 December.

    Kenya has reduced its HIV prevalence rate among adults to 6% from 11% in 1996, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The World Bank tables show it was slightly less than 6% in 2014. Even so, it’s still the leading cause of death in Kenya, responsible for nearly 30% of deaths, with roughly 1.6 million Kenyan infected. An average for Africa’s 12% of all deaths.

    Almost 75% of women in the study hadn’t had an HIV test. Stigma and a lack of awareness about the risk of contracting the virus may be to blame, Njuguna said. The study found that most of the young women who sought testing said they chose to visit health facilities far away from where they lived to avoid being recognised.

    The SMS campaign’ll be expanded next year to reach up to 15,000 women in ten of Kenya’s counties, It builds on the effective surveys already completed says mSurvey. It’s also looking to expand beyond SMSs such as using social media, such as Facebook.

  • Innovation needed to address sexual, reproductive health needs of adolescent girls

    Positive Action for Girls and Women, in partnership with Every Woman Every Child, has announced the launch of the Empowering Girls in Emergency Settings (EmGEmS) Challenge Prize. It addresses the Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) needs of adolescent girls in emergencies where girls are particularly vulnerable to violence, rape, lack of privacy, often forego education and how they access to health services.

    An article in allAfrica says the EmGEmS Challenge Prize will award $100,000 to a programme that supports young girls and empowers them to improve their education about their sexual and reproductive health needs and rights. The Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health 2016-2030 hopes the prize will highlight the specific needs of adolescent girls who suffer physical, mental and emotional risks. It’s partnering with Positive Action on this Community Challenges.

    The grant will support implementation of ideas and programmes focused on SRH services for adolescent girls in emergency settings as key intervention to address HIV epidemic.

  • A sexual health app from Uganda

    They call themselves Team Code Gurus, and their video’s on You Tube. They’re five female students from Makerere University in Uganda and they’ve successfully created a test kit to detect harmful vaginal bacteria that cause bacterial vaginosis (BV) and other infections. While BV is fairly common, and is not itself a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can be unpleasant and increases the risk contracting an STI. All Africa carried the story.

    The kit’s called Her Health BVKit. It consists of hardware that connects to a smartphone app using Bluetooth. Their YouTube video explains how they created it. It’s remarkably simple, based on knowing that healthy vaginal bacteria exist in a specific pH environment. When that environment is upset, less healthy bacteria can thrive, causing Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) and its uncomfortable symptoms including pain, itching, unusual discharge and unpleasant odour.

    The kit tests the pH of a sample of urine or vaginal discharge and sends the value to the app. pH’s a numeric scale used to specify the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. The app interprets whether the sample implies healthy or unhealthy amounts of vaginal bacteria. If there are unhealthy levels of bacteria, the app recommends that the user seeks medical attention and indicates where to find the nearest doctor or clinic.

    Software developer Ndagire Esther explains how the team wants their invention to reach places and people where it’s a need. "We plan on marketing our application through NGOs, clinics and pharmacies. We hope the NGOs can help us reach rural areas where women who don't have the opportunity to test their bacteria will be able to use our application." She’d also like women to be able test themselves.

    The health profile of the population’s important for BVKit’s impact As HIV rates decline in Uganda, sexual health remains important. A third of the population’s aged 10 to 24, and more babies are born to teenage mothers than to adult women. Fewer than 50% of people aged 20 to 24 have ever used a condom, and according to a recent study in the journal of Sexual Transmitted Infections, 88% of women at high risk of contracting HIV tested positive for BV. It’s a big risk for young Ugandan women. A self-test kit for BV could help protect them.

    Team Code Gurus is likely to be doing more exciting work. eHNA and women across Africa will be watching.