The original article was published on New Scientist on 4 April, 2016. Written by Anna Nowogrodzki. To read the complete article, click here

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SMS has proven an exceptionally useful technology in parts of Africa GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

For many people in Zambia with health queries, sending a text message is the best way to get it answered. U-report, a free SMS-based service set up by UNICEF and run by volunteers, receives many thousands of questions a month, many specifically about HIV and AIDS.

Also popular in Uganda, U-Report has seen usage triple in the last three years, and about a thousand new users register every day. The volume of messages is growing so fast that the volunteers can’t keep up, so UNICEF is testing software that reads and responds to many of the messages automatically.

In Zambia, there are roughly 27,000 new HIV infections a year, according to UNICEF, and 40 per cent of these are in those aged 15 to 24. With people constantly texting U-report for all kinds of HIV information and advice, the automated version uses machine learning algorithms to sort messages into eight categories: symptoms, HIV testing, treatment, pregnancy, transmission, prevention, definition, and male circumcision.

To read the complete article, click here

 

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