Josephine Pumulo, Zambia: People ask, why isn't she pregnant yet? Why does she want to go to school?
New series: Born in the slums of Lusaka, Josephine Pumulo, put herself through school and is now one of Zambia’s 65,000-plus U-Reporters - a community that uses rapid SMS to provide adolescents and young people with counselling on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. This is her story
Every hour in Zambia, three young people aged 15-24 are infected with HIV/AIDS. 60 per cent of them are girls. To address this public health crisis, UNICEF has deployed a new technology called U-Report. In this video, Josephine Pumulo explains why the project is needed and the goals around HIV it helps set for her country, Zambia.
U-Report uses simple text messaging services to provide young people with confidential, free-of-charge counselling on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. By sending a text message to a toll-free number and submitting a few personal details, any young person with a mobile phone can become a volunteer ‘U-reporter’. More than 75,000 young Zambians have signed up so far, with 70 per cent of them engaging in a "text conversation" with a HIV/AIDS counsellor. The counsellors are trained to provide a respectful, empathetic, youth friendly service to those at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, as well as directing them to local health services where they can get tested and access high impact HIV/AIDS prevention services. U-Report also captures real-time feedback from young people, on the availability of health services in their area.
In addition to counselling, periodic opinion polls give young people a collective voice on issues from children’s rights to government policy. In order to ensure a high response rate, all polls are first approved by a youth advisory group. These young people ensure the messages are re-phrased into a language that their peers will relate to and respond to honestly without feeling pressured to give "correct" answers.
“U-Report is gaining popularity because it has given young people the ability to speak out on the issues that directly affect them. By empowering young people to take control over their HIV status, we are securing the next generation of Zambia’s future,” said UNICEF Ireland’s executive director, Peter Power.
U-Report is a game-changing application, not only in Zambia but throughout the developing world. Utilising accessible technology, U-Report offers a cost-effective, flexible and highly scalable opportunity to reach young people directly, he says.
In Uganda, more than 270,000 young people take part in regular opinion polls using U-Report. In Nigeria, over 120,000 young people have subscribed to the service. The technology acts as a catalyst for more responsible and responsive governance. It has become an efficient method of measuring accountability by tapping into community knowledge to learn the local and personal impact of policy and development programmes. By engaging young people in critical debates on topics such as climate change, they are better able to hold their elected representatives to account.
In Sierra Leone, U-Report was instrumental in addressing the recent Ebola outbreak. The technology was used to send out targeted awareness-raising messages, allowing young people to act as information hubs within their communities. Crucially, it also allowed authorities to dispel dangerous rumours regarding the spread of the deadly virus. Public health authorities could measure the effectiveness of their public engagement through opinion polling.
Readers can view up-to-date data on U-Report’s work in 11 countries here: https://ureport.in/
The latest from U Report Zambia is available here: http://www.zambiaureport.org/metrics/