Background: Freedom HIV/AIDS is a company specialising in mobile game development with the aim of trying to combat HIV/AIDS through the use of ICTs. Their original project was based around educational games created for mobile phones. The success of this project in India led to Freedom HIV/AIDS collaborating with the Africa Reach Programme in 2006 to create the ‘Star Programme’. This programme was implemented in six countries: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia, countries of high HIV/AIDS prevalence. The focus was on adolescents and young people, although the games could be used by anyone.
The Star programme aimed to use technology to create HIV/AIDS awareness and sensitivity amongst young people in the target countries. By increasing awareness, the programme aimed to reduce the spread of HIV.
What did the programme involve? Two mobile games were created, in both English and local languages: AIDS Penalty Shoot Out — a football game where players save and shoot penalties whilst receiving information and messages on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention — and AIDS Fighter Pilot — where a village boy and girl who area peer educators, dedicate their lives to fighting HIV/AIDS as they fly around their village and region, distributing knowledge, condoms and red ribbons.
Why that particular approach? Mobile technology was used due to its prevalence in the target countries. The number of people with mobile phones — especially young people — was rapidly growing and as youth were the target demographic this made focusing on mobile phone technology a logical move. Using technology to communicate information and raise awareness was also deemed to be more cost effective than using health workers, and it was felt it would allow information to reach rural areas that might otherwise be excluded.
Games were used as ‘edutainment’ rather than as just information packages, because edutainment methods can often be more effective at spreading messages and creating awareness than just presenting large amounts of information to target audiences. The games engaged and entertained making it more likely that young people would retain knowledge gained whilst playing.
Results observed: Assessing the results of the programme is difficult. However, in 2006 there were six million downloads of the game, which suggests that the game is both popular and being used widely.
When the games were first launched there was no evaluation system in place to study the impact of the games. However, since then during the game play the score, variety of messages delivered, message weights, levels and replay history were recorded in order to assess the impact. Using this information, it has been suggested that games have increased players’ knowledge of HIV/AIDS. Freedom HIV/AIDS is developing more games and rolling out the initiative to other parts of the world, which suggests the organisation views the edutainment games as a success.
Lessons learned: The Star Programme highlights the importance of formative research. Through connecting with local NGOs the programme initiators learnt about cultural and regional sensitivities, allowing ‘tailoring’ of the games. Formative research also highlighted the popularity of football across Africa which determined the focus of one of the games. However, the lack of evaluation system when the games were first implemented has made it more difficult to evaluate the impact of the project. This highlights the importance of continual monitoring and evaluation.
(Source: Freedom HIV/AIDS website)