Kenyans can now get information about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and the effects of drinking, drugs and smoking by dialling a special number on their mobile phones. Callers dial one of a series of numbers according to the information desired and are put through to a pre-recorded question and answer session between a doctor and a patient on the subject of their choice. The service is available 24 hours a day, and information can be requested in English, Kiswahili, Kikuyu, Kamba, Luhya and Luo. Calls are charged at Ksh5 per minute.

The service is the idea of 24-year-old Paddy Mwangi, who developed it for his masters degree in marketing and communications at the University of West England (United Kingdom). Over 420 people called in the first two months, according to a report by the Nairobi-based African Woman and Child Feature Service. Most were aged 15-25 and live in Nairobi or Mombasa. Women are generally interested in sexual health issues and men in drinking-related matters. For Mwangi the challenge now is to persuade telecommunications companies to host the initiative. For information about STIs the number to dial is 0900 331 101; about smoking 0900 331 102; drinking 0900 331 103; and drugs 0900 331 104.