Peace Corps Workers in Armenia Text to Fight AIDS

Mobile phones are great for communicating, but can they also be good for your health?

In Armenia, the answer is yes, thanks to U.S. Peace Corps volunteers who have helped launch a nationwide program that promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention through mobile-phone-based SMS text messaging.

Peace Corps volunteers Lisa Conder of Englewood, Florida, and Ashley Ottewell of Belleville, Michigan, spearheaded the start of the SMS Information Hotline, which provides answers to questions sent in by the Armenian public.

“The SMS Information Hotline provides potentially lifesaving information that users may not be able to get otherwise,” said Conder, in a November 4 Peace Corps press release. She had the idea to start the hotline in 2009 after learning about a similar Peace Corps project in Namibia.

“In Armenia,” Conder said, “HIV/AIDS is sometimes referred to as a hidden epidemic. There is a general low awareness about HIV/AIDS and a lack of prevention programs and resources. People often avoid seeking testing, counseling and treatment because of the stigma and social taboos associated with it.”

Beginning on October 21, 2011, Armenian community members have been able to send anonymous HIV/AIDS-related questions through text messaging. They receive answers within 24 hours from Armenian Red Cross Society volunteers trained by the Armenian Ministry of Health’s National Center for AIDS Prevention.

The hotline is a resource accessible to the general public, including those in rural areas who might have limited access to accurate HIV/AIDS information.

“Having a text messaging HIV/AIDS information hotline is a perfect way to make important information accessible and empower people to make healthy lifestyle choices,” said Ottewell.

The creation and implementation of the SMS Information Hotline, as well as a national information campaign to promote it, are funded through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Conder and Ottewell made use of its Volunteer Activities Support and Training grant, which is available to Peace Corps volunteers working in collaboration with local partners.

The SMS Information Hotline was implemented in cooperation with the Armenian Red Cross Society, Armenian mobile operators, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Armenia, and Peace Corps staff and volunteers, including recently returned Peace Corps volunteers Nicholas Hutchings of Baltimore and Brent Hines of Belton, Texas.

Nearly 740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Armenia since the program was established in 1992. They work in the areas of community and business development, and English education. There are currently 96 volunteers serving in the country. They are trained and work in Armenian.

President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961, by executive order. Throughout 2011, the Peace Corps is commemorating 50 years of promoting peace and friendship around the world. Historically, more than 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries.

Today, 9,095 volunteers are working with local communities in 75 host countries. Peace Corps volunteers, who commit to serve for 27 months, must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

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