Abuja, April 27 - Airtel Nigeria, the Nigerian arm of Indian mobile services provider Airtel, and the National Agency for the Control of AIDS (NACA) have announced a joint initiative to set up a call centre that would provide information on HIV/AIDS and help fight its spread in the West African country.
Airtel would equip the recently established national call centre with toll-free lines that will enable Nigerians, irrespective of their location, to get accurate information on HIV/AIDS and counselling in English, Pidgin, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo languages.
Announcing the partnership at a press conference in Abuja, NACA Director General John Idoko said the organisation was now better equipped to tackle the spread of AIDS with the support of Airtel, which provided 100 phone lines for the project.
Rajan Swaroop, Airtel Nigeria's chief executive officer and managing director, said the company's support for the project was part of its commitment to contribute to the well-being of all Nigerians, particularly customers.
"This partnership provides us with a new opportunity to serve our customers in a fresh and different way, especially in the area of quality health care delivery. We have partnered with NACA with the objective of improving the delivery of healthcare services in Nigeria," Swaroop said.
He said Airtel would work closely with the NACA to send information via short codes to the customers in addition to providing access to people to speak to agents at the NACA call centre.
Idoko said the centre would both serve as an information hub and "public enlightenment platform" that has been carefully designed to increase knowledge on HIV/AIDS among the people.
"Studies show that only 36 percent of young people in urban areas have correct knowledge on the condition, while knowledge is extremely poor in rural areas," he said.
"We have made a giant stride in the fight but we need to intensify the campaign and reduce the prevalence rate, which has dropped to 4.1 percent from 6 percent in 2001. We still have about 3.1 million people living with HIV and there is a danger of potential increase," he added.
"Forty-two percent of transmission occurs between people with low perception, who engage in unprotected sex. We are looking to a future where the call centre can be expanded to other health issues related to HIV, like TB, family planning, malaria and diabetes," Idoko said.
As a rapidly growing population, he said Nigeria is full of young people who would soon come of age for sexual activity, and for that a strong educational programme was required.
(Francis Kokutse can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)