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Information and communications technologies (ICTs) have a major role to play in combating HIV/AIDS in the developing world, especially in Africa, through coordinating efforts and sharing knowledge, according to a study commissioned by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

“ICTs initiatives won’t be useful on their own,” says Richard Fuchs, director of the ‘ICTs for Development’ programme at IDRC. “They are not to be seen as a panacea or a misplaced luxury at the expense of basic infrastructure, care, or affordable treatment. However, they are an important tool to support health information needs at all levels.”

The most recent figures estimate that 40 million people globally are living with HIV and that the disease is now the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.

The IDRC study is a preliminary contribution to the ‘ICTs against HIV/AIDS Coalition’, a United Nations initiative announced at the G8 summit in July. The public-private coalition — which will bring together businesses, governments and UN agencies — aims to develop innovative new approaches to tackle the HIV/AIDS crisis.

The study reviewed existing literature, websites and the views of those involved in the field. It concludes that ICTs offer a low-cost way of providing access to knowledge for people in developing countries; they can assist in the wide dissemination of information about the disease (including its epidemiology, prevention, and treatment), local level activities and policy issues as well as opening up the potential to link partners across the world.

ICTs projects that are already addressing the challenges of HIV/AIDS in Africa are highlighted by the study. For example the Zimbabwe Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has an information technology component that is addressing the information needs of organisations involved in fighting AIDS.

The report, however, also acknowledges that access to these technologies is a major concern. It cautions that the lack of infrastructure in Africa — where there is only one Internet user for every 200 people compared with a global average of one in 30 — will be a major barrier to integrating ICTs into HIV/AIDS strategies.

Link to full report (requires Adobe Acrobat)

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