At the beginning of February 2006, the eLearning Africa 2006 team received an e-mail from a firm called CompuTainer that caught our attention. It said (excerpts), “Due to the overwhelming demand for us to send demo CDs (we have had requests from over 200 companies) we have decided to make a download demo version available for your convenience. Together with our long-term partner LearnScapes, we are happy to bring you a limited demo copy of the eHealth content that CompuTainer is currently deploying in the NEPAD e-School Demonstration Project. …At that stage we will be training over 120,000 students a year on our comprehensive HIV, AIDS, TB and malaria content. In total, together with LearnScapes, we are now actively training over 480,000 people in Africa on a yearly basis. Our aim in the next two years is to have over 5,000,000 people trained on a yearly basis.”
We were really impressed and wanted to know more about this project. The editorial team of eLearning Africa contacted the sender of the e-mail – Mark Van der Merwe, Managing Director of CompuTainer – and asked him to provide some further information. He kindly submitted the following article…
eHealth computer based education saving lives in Africa
On the 23rd of November 1999, Paul Van der Merwe died of an AIDS related illness, only four days after telling his family that he had been diagnosed as HIV Positive. Paul was 34 years of age, well educated in a top private school, worldly aware of sexually transmitted diseases, but yet totally uninformed about the HI virus, its properties, ways to prevent infection, and ways to live positively with the virus.
Simply put, there are things that parents will discuss with their children and things they will not. When it comes to various forms of transmission, there are certain areas that parents either do not want to discuss with children or things they do not know themselves. I ask a simple question at each and every conference at which I speak: Have you spoken to your kids about anal sex? I have yet to hear a single parent say “yes”.
With heterosexual infections on the increase due to consenting youth having anal sex, we are allowing our children to expose themselves to HIV, and with no cure, we are allowing our children the right to an early death. And if for one moment we believe that our children would never indulge in that behaviour, we have only our own naivety to blame.
At that stage I was the Regional Technical Manager for Microsoft Middle East and Africa, based in Dubai. After some initial research into HIV and education around HIV, I found that in South Africa about 200,000 people were being trained each year on HIV and related subjects. With a need to train approximately 29 million Africans, we were looking at an unacceptable backlog due to capacity issues. Training was originally done in boardrooms, in factories, and under trees on a one-to-one or workgroup basis. The training varied and in most cases did not cover all topics due to cultural and ‘embarrassment factors’. With 25 years of experience in the IT world, I believed that there had to be an answer to mass education and there had to be a solution out there. To my horror there was not, so we set about creating that solution with comprehensive content. Today we train in excess of 480,000 individuals per year, more than all other providers put together. We host what we believe is the most comprehensive e-Health curriculum for both schools and workplace. Together with partners worldwide, we have invested in creating a rich computer-based education around HIV, AIDS, TB, malaria, nutrition, sexuality, condoms, anti-retrovirals and other sexually transmitted infections.
Recently we have become involved with top consortium owners deploying e-Health solutions in seventeen African countries under the umbrella of the NEPAD e-School Demonstration Project. With Phase I well under way, we have taken e-Health to thousands of African students, and in Phase II, the project will be expanded to 220,000 secondary schools. The scope of this project is enormous and will eventually educate over 165 million youth on our continent.
In the situation where schools or workplace environments have access to computers, we provide content for installation on the desktop, servers, or on CDs. For schools or workplace that do not have access to computers, we either install touch screen kiosks or – together with AMD – utilise their 50X15 Personal Internet Communicator, on which we pre-load the e-Health curriculum. We are currently negotiating with several other hardware companies supplying PCs to Africa to hard load full e-Health curricula on their PCs.
Our original vision of training over five million individuals on HIV and AIDS per year now seems so limited, as the need and potential has clearly exploded. With government agencies such as ministries of education and health welcoming the content throughout Africa, it is now feasible that we can train each and every student each and every year in full e-Health content.
Mark van der Merwe is both the Founder and Managing Director of CompuTainer Pty Ltd and ASN-AFRICA Pty Ltd. Mark is a Social Entrepreneur and has based both companies on the Social Entrepreneur principles. After working for 23 years in the IT industry, worldwide, Mark returned to South Africa to form CompuTainer and later ASN-AFRICA. CompuTainer works at implementing Digital Classrooms, Community Telephone Access and Interactive Kiosks, to raise the level of understanding of Information Technology and HIV, AIDS, TB and Malaria. ASN-AFRICA is a Mass Interventions Supply Company in the field of HIV. With the ASN standing for Awareness, Status and Nutrition, ASN-AFRICA markets, sells and distributes what they believe to be the best of breed products that have the ability to lower the new infection rate of HIV on the Africa continent. Mark is based in Johannesburg, South Africa and has two children aged 14 and 11.