Project Zumbido used group mobile-phone communication via SMS to address some of the challenges faced by those living with HIV/AIDS in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.
In the past few years, drug treatments have been shown to have considerable effect in helping to prolong and improve the quality of life of those living with HIV/AIDS. The challenge that many countries like Mexico are now facing is how to provide the right support systems and information, particularly for those in rural areas.
Although antiretroviral treatment is free in Mexico, many of those living with HIV are affected by high levels of social isolation, largely due to issues of stigma and discrimination. These levels of social isolation have, in some cases, led to significant negative health effects such as anxiety, depression and non-compliance with medical treatment.
The SHM Foundation launched Project Zumbido with the aim of coming up with a model that could help to address these challenges. The Foundation wanted to see if there was a way to create and promote social relationships for those living with HIV/AIDS that could have the potential to lead to significant positive health outcomes. These would include emotional support, improving the participants’ knowledge about accessing health services, and helping them to adhere to medical treatment.
Project Zumbido explored the benefits of group mobile-phone communication via SMS – an idea that has since inspired health initiatives worldwide (including the Foundation’s own Project Kopano in South Africa). The great advantage of the mobile phone is that it is accessible to those in both rural and urban areas. In addition, mobile phones provide a robust mechanism for creating networks to connect people in a sustainable way to medical professionals and health advisors.
The pilot consisted of four groups of ten participants from both urban and rural areas, some recently diagnosed, and some who had been living with HIV/AIDS for a long time.
The participants quickly took to using the phones, sending on average 80,000 text messages a month and discussing a wide range of issues in relation to their quality of life. The emotional state of the participants improved significantly. As one said, ‘I had the freedom to express myself in the way I wanted to. I hadn’t realised how important that was for me.’ Many of the participants helped to encourage each other to take their medication and shared tips as to how to deal with secondary effects: ‘Hi guys – I have a long day ahead of me – so much to do! Have you had your breakfast and taken your pills?’ Participants’ awareness of how to access services improved, as did their knowledge about human rights.
Project Zumbido was selected as one of the finalists for the Stockholm Challenge Awards 2008 (an award scheme that promotes the innovative use of ICT) and has been named as a Best Practice project by the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development. The success of the project was also highlighted by the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the GSMA Development Fund in their report ‘Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity’ which was launched at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February this year.
Project Zumbido has pointed the way to a new and important development in social networking, and is a striking example of the positive interactions and outcomes that can be created by empowering people to make connections with each other.