Project Khuluma

The Issue

In South Africa over 15% of young women aged 15-24 are infected with HIV, and 5% of young men. Research shows that HIV positive adolescents are at increased risk of mental health problems, meaning they have higher rates of depression and anxiety, and often stop taking their medication.

The Approach

Khuluma was launched in late 2013 in South Africa across clinics in Pretoria and Cape Town, to provide an integrated, cost-effective and scalable solution to the growing challenge of mental ill health.

Khuluma is a social support program where participants are placed in support groups of 10-15 peers who share similar experiences. These support groups are enabled by our digital platform, where participants discuss – peer-to-peer, at any time via text message – a range of issues relating to their condition or needs for 3 months.

We have also developed a mentor program using a ‘train the trainer’ model, where our participants are trained to deliver peer-to-peer psychosocial support in digital support groups. Our mentors are also engaged in creative and participatory action research using different media, including analyzing our text messages, as well as using photography and animation to express how HIV has impacted their lives.

The latest Khuluma Groups were launched in September 2019 and ran until late November 2019. 50 adolescents from the Pretoria/Johannesburg area of South Africa, aged between 16-24 years old, participated in the support groups. We are currently in the process of conducting post-project impact analysis and will begin analyzing the messages sent by the adolescents shortly.

During the project, we partnered with Rocket.Chat, an open-source communications technology solution, and Focus MDM by Dimagi to create a secure and accessible mobile experience for participants. We were also able to stress test two important technical components of the model. First, our language-agnostic Natural Language Processing solution, which detects messages that indicate a high degree of participant distress or alert the facilitation team to conversations that require its attention. Second, our facilitator dashboard, which provides the team with real-time data on how participants are engaging in the support groups. We are excited to push these features forwards and use them with external partners in future projects.

The Outcome

Overall we have worked with 160 adolescents – so far they have sent over 60,000 text messages, which is an average of 6 messages per day.

We have proven that our support groups have significant impact, with our outcomes including:

  • Increased self-reported medical adherence
  • Increased perceived levels of social support
  • Decreased internalised social stigma
  • Increased knowledge and access to services

Main photo by Troy Khoza


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Help us empower adolescents living with HIV in South Africa by donating towards our Khuluma Khulisani Mentor Programme.

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