Airtel CEO, Mr. Rajan Swaroop
Health is wealth, the aphorism states, and in the modern world, access to adequate and relevant information is a major route to getting the full benefits of health services.
This realisation is propelling a major public private sector partnership that has seen leading telecommunications services provider Airtel Nigeria collaborate with public sector health organisations—National Agency for Control of AIDS (NACA) and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, (NAFDAC) in providing needed public health information.
Airtel uses the platform of the ubiquitous mobile telephones carried by nearly 20 million Nigerians on its network to provide dedicated lines for citizens (consumers) to call in to NACA or NAFDAC. Citizens also receive text messages and alerts on issues of public health concern.
Director of Corporate Communication and CSR, Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Emeka Oparah, explained Airtel’s involvement as arising from its concern with fundamental issues of public good. “Our interventions in public health are akin to the work we are doing with primary education. We are concerned in our interventions in investing in areas of demonstrable long-term benefit to the communities that we serve. Health is a fundamental concern. By enabling access to real time information, we hope to serve as a veritable link in the health care chain.”
The collaboration with NACA concerns the National Call Centre on HIV/AIDS and Related Diseases. Airtel provided the telecom centre as well as toll free lines that enable citizens to call in and make enquiries about HIV or AIDS. Airtel provided an initial 30 lines for use of staff at the Call Centre. Thirty agents engaged by NACA at the National Call Centre on HIV/AIDS provide information, guidance and counselling to callers. All calls on a dedicated Airtel line, 6222, are free.
The telecomms firm also enables NACA use the Centre to send regular SMS messages on HIV/AIDS and other health care concerns. First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan launched the National Call Centre on April 26, 2012. She observed at the ceremony that the growth of telephony in Nigeria had provided a strong platform for enhanced information dissemination on health issues. She commended Airtel Networks Limited for its role in providing toll free lines for subscribers to call the Centre and access information on HIV/AIDS.
“I believe that this National Call Centre will go a long way in strengthening our national response to HIV/AIDS, as is the case in other countries of the world, such as South Africa, the Philippines and India, who have used help lines and Call Centres successfully in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, “ Mrs. Jonathan said.
The collaboration between the Airtel network and NACA dates back to 2005 when the idea for the national call centre was first proclaimed. The network kept to its initial agreement and ensured that when NACA was finally ready to roll with the Call Centre, the network was also ready. Airtel CEO Mr. Rajan Swaroop affirmed the resolve of the network to ensure the success of the partnership.
“As far as this partnership is concerned,” Mr. Swaroop stated, “we are totally committed to ensuring the success of the National Call Contact Centre. We will ensure effective public enlightenment and education through firm commitment in scaling up existing efforts and concrete partnerships that will help millions of Nigerians access better information and referrals to service provision in healthcare delivery.
“At Airtel, we will also work with the National Agency for the Control of AIDS to send short messages concerning the deadly scourge to our subscribers nationwide,” he emphasised.
The Airtel-NACA partnership took off against the backdrop of the National HIV/AIDS sero-prevalence sentinel survey for 2011 that showed higher prevalence of HIV in some rural areas compared with urban areas. The company believes that adequate and relevant information through mobile phones would ensure that denizens of rural areas also receive information needed to protect them from the scourge.
A similar consideration for public health and good actuates the collaboration between Airtel and NAFDAC. The overall goal is to take the battle against fake drugs one notch higher by calling in the services of mobile technology and speed of response.
With the partnership, the SMS service allows the buyer to send the code (PIN) on the drug package to a defined short code. The number automatically sends a return SMS to either confirm that the drug is genuine or state otherwise.
Through the collaborations with the public service agencies, Airtel Networks is rendering invaluable service to citizens of Nigeria in the critical area of health. It is also making a statement of its long-term intentions. As the First Lady aptly put it, the collaboration between Airtel and the public sector health agencies, “(It) is a clear expression of corporate social responsibility in the true spirit of Public Private.