The southern African country of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light aircraft. This means that healthcare resources are difficult to access by mothers and their children. For example, the country has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS with 23% of the two million population living with HIV. Antiretroviral treatments (ARTs), which suppress the HIV virus and stop its progression, are available. However, only a third of the estimated 19,000 children in Lesotho living with the virus are receiving ARTs.
The use of mobile technology has proven a successful tool to address some of the challenges around access to healthcare services, such as access to transport, in rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa. In Lesotho, a partnership between ViiV Healthcare, the Vodafone Foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, ELMA Philanthropies and the United States Government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has resulted in the launch of the Mobilising HIV Identification and Treatment (MHIT) programme.
The programme is deploying mobile clinics to rural areas to reach children – including adolescents – and mothers in hard to reach communities, providing primary care services (including antenatal checks and immunisation) and searching for individuals living with HIV to provide them with better access to treatment, using mobile money-based transport vouchers so they can reach clinics or hospitals. For many children and mothers, this could be the first time that primary healthcare services have been accessible to them. In addition, the use of mobile technology enables the management, coordination of services and communications to support the implementation of the programme.
The goal of the MHIT programme is to double the number of children in Lesotho in care and on treatment within three years, thereby ensuring that their health and futures are not compromised or cut short through lack of access to HIV services. It also aims to improve uptake of services that address mother-to-child transmission of HIV to prevent more children from being born with the virus.