Launched in September 2008, the Text Me! Flash Me! Helpline uses cell phone technology to provide most-at-risk populations (MARP) in Ghana with friendly and accessible HIV and AIDS information, referrals, and counseling services from qualified providers. While the initial pilot reached out to men who have sex with men (MSM) exclusively, it was expanded in February 2009 to include female sex workers (FSW). It is a creation of the Ghana SHARP project (Strengthening HIV/AIDS Response Partnerships), which is managed by AED (Academy for Educational Development), through collaboration with the Ghana National AIDS Control Program, the Ghana Health Services (GHS), and 9 local non-governmental organisation (NGO) Implementing Partners, and with funding by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Text Me! Flash Me! is designed to:
Increase MARP's access to and use of friendly and confidential HIV/AIDS information, referrals, and counseling services;
Reinforce information and key messages provided by peer educators and facility-based health workers;
Provide a safe haven for first-time/hesitant or shy clients to make anonymous inquiries and get help; and
Strengthen the referral networks and community-facility linkages within the continuum of prevention, treatment, care, and support services for MARP.
SHARP's strategic approach involves focusing prevention interventions for results. The "High 5" focus includes: 1) high prevalence/most-at-risk groups; 2) high-risk behaviours; 3) high transmission areas; 4) high-risk places; and 5) high-risk events. These emphases are reflected in the types of outgoing messages sent as part of Text Me! Flash Me!: 1) promotion "blasts" (e.g., free airtime, free lubricants); 2) education "blasts" (example: "Friends, it's your turn to show true love this Valentine Day by being faithful to 1 partner n using condoms n lubes each time u have sex"); 3) automatic short messaging service (SMS) response to a coded text inquiry; and 4) personalised follow-up response.