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Mobile Phone-Based Program Designed To Improve Safer Sex Practices Has Opposite Effect In Uganda, Study Shows

“A mobile phone-based health program designed to improve access to sexual health information and boost safe sex in rural central Uganda had the opposite effect, according to the findings of a … study published in May,” IRIN reports, noting the study was “a partnership between Yale University, NGO Innovations for Poverty Action, Google, the Grameen Foundation and the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology.” The service, “provided free of charge by mobile phone firm MTN, allowed users in 60 central Ugandan villages to text questions on sexual and reproductive health to a server and receive pre-prepared responses from a database,” the news service notes (6/17). “Similar projects in wealthier countries have used text messages to help people quit smoking and manage their asthma and diabetes. The researchers hypothesized that with better information, Ugandans too could take charge of their health and avoid risky sexual behavior,” the Yale Alumni Magazine writes (Bass, 6/7).

However, the researchers write, “We find no increase in health knowledge regarding HIV transmission or contraception methods and no change in attitudes. Rather than seeing reductions in risky sexual behavior, we actually find higher incidence of risky sexual behavior and more infidelity, although more abstinence as well,” according to IRIN (6/17). Bloomberg examines the study’s results, as well as other mobile health technology programs, writing, “Results from various programs show phone technology is better suited for some initiatives than others,” such as maternal health (Kitamura, 6/5).