START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
1,515,479 people care about Health Policy

Text Messaging Improves Health of HIV Positive, Study Finds

Text Messaging Improves Health of HIV Positive, Study Finds

Mobile phones are changing health care — and according to a new study, have the potential to save and improve lives in low-resource areas of the world. The study on mobile phone usage to treat HIV positive clients in Kenya, published by The Lancet, indicates that simple “how are you” texts delivered weekly increase the likelihood that Kenyans who are HIV positive will follow their medication regime, helping them stay healthy and also reducing the spread of the disease (since they then have a lower viral load).

Earlier this week, lead researcher Dr. Richard Lester presented the team’s findings at the 2010 mHealth Summit in Washington, DC, a gathering of 2,000 participants from academic, government and private sector including philanthropists Bill Gates and Ted Turner.  

Why mobile phones work

According to Science Daily, Dr. Lester, a clinical assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of British Clumbia Faculty of Medicine said, “ART (antiretroviral treatment) requires patients to take their medication very consistently to ensure the virus stays dormant and to prevent the person from developing resistance to the drugs. But adhering to such a regimen can be particularly difficult in the developing world, where visits to clinics can be arduous and time-consuming, and where civil strife, food shortages, economic hardship and even wars can disrupt people’s lives.”

Mobile phone usage in countries like Kenya is very high, with nearly 75 percent of people over the age of 15 subscribing to mobile phones in 2008.

“Considering the ubiquity of mobile phones and the minimal expense in sending text messages, this practice can be an extremely cost-effective way of improving outcomes for HIV patients — not only in Africa, but around the world, particularly with transient, low-income populations,” Dr. Lester said.

Mobile study results

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from the US, Canada and Kenya and funded by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, focused on 538 patients from three clinics. Between May 2007 and October 2009, the patients were divided into two groups: half were randomly selected to receive text message support and half were not. Those in the support group received a weekly friendly message and were expected to respond within 48 hours. If they did not respond, or responded saying they had a health problem, the clinic followed up with the patients. The messages were not intended as medication reminders, but participants reported that they felt “like someone cares” and had an opportunity to address any health problems quickly before they turned into larger issues. The study found that the group who received the check-ins were 12 percent more likely to have an undetectable viral load a year after starting treatment.

This was the first randomized controlled trial to examine the effectiveness of mobile phone support system with patients, but other groups, such as nonprofit health organizations, are also using mobile technology to improve HIV care. This summer in Tanzania I travelled with community home-based care workers who were employing mobile phones to help HIV positive clients in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Mobile health technology expanding

I saw that in areas where HIV is highly stigmatized, and patients are often reticent to travel to nearby clinics for fear of being identified as HIV positive, community home-based care workers use mobile phones during their visits with clients to check in on their health and provide advice.

Pathfinder International in collaboration with D-Tree International has developed a phone-based tool that simplifies the collection and transfer of data to a general database and offers decision support to the health workers. The phone has a checklist of activities to be performed at each home visit, including reminders of appointments.

So far, Pathfinder has provided 107 community health workers with a mobile phone and the project will roll out the phones to another 190 community health workers in 2010-2011. Benjamin Mrema, a Pathfinder staff member working on the project, said, “We have seen increases in patient confidentiality since providers don’t need to carry the usual forms when visiting clients. We’ve also seen an increase in number of completed referrals, better use of health protocols, improved record keeping, better planning (for the community health worker) and an increase in the use of data to show trends in health worker activity.”

There have also been challenges however, including the literacy level of the community home-based care providers, security threats as mobile phones can be targets for robbery, and the cultural acceptability of using mobile phones to manage health related issues.

It is clear through The Lancet study and pilot projects such as Pathfinder International and D-Tree’s that mobile technology has the potential to significantly impact the health of those in need.

 

Read more: , , , , , , , , , ,

Photo I took of a home-based care provider meeting with a client for HIV testing during a trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on behalf of Pathfinder International.

quick poll

vote now!

Loading poll...

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

19 comments

+ add your own
12:24AM PST on Jan 22, 2014

Your articles make whole sense of every topic.
Hamlin

10:49AM PST on Nov 27, 2010

Never thought of that, but this is very interesting

11:19PM PST on Nov 20, 2010

interesting findings on this and really good ideas for the patient.

7:23PM PST on Nov 17, 2010

I agree with Nic F. The internet is more intuitionistic. They can check photos, can meet others in the same boat at those personal and support sites like HFriends,net. They can also communicate with other positive people at the blogs, checking medical and treatment information......Much more than you can do by phone.

8:48AM PST on Nov 15, 2010

wow

10:31PM PST on Nov 14, 2010

Very evil technology. Put a stop to it Phones are controlled by multinational corporations evil

7:37AM PST on Nov 14, 2010

I think the Internet can have the same effect. E-Mails and Social Networking sites enable people to send messages of support and comfort to friends around the world who are suffering physical or mental ill-health.

11:01PM PST on Nov 13, 2010

All most people want is love. Not romantic love; but, the love of family, friends, support workers, etc. They want to know that someone cares whether they live or die; and, receiving validation that people do care can have a tremendously positive effect on their outlook on life. A positive outlook helps in treating illness.

8:18PM PST on Nov 13, 2010

I'm willing to bet if you dig a little deeper and find out who financed the study, it would be a Big Telecom corporation. These social and health benefits in Third World countries are spurious at best when one considers the likelihood of heavy cell phone users getting brain tumours or other forms of cancer. (Up to four times the risk of non-users according to some studies but at least double the risk.) So far as I'm aware, the majority of studies funded by the industry find "no harm" while the majority of independent studies find a range of both short and long term health effects. I find it reprehensible that poor Africans are being given a dangerous technology in the guise of a "helping hand." Forgive their national debts and turn back the interest they pay on IMF loans into building a proper national telephone infrastructure with high-speed fibre optic for internet.

2:06PM PST on Nov 13, 2010

Very interesting article!

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

ads keep care2 free

Recent Comments from Causes

When ideology prevents people from taking concerted action to prevent disasters like global warming leading…

Sometimes I am ashamed to be human....and then people like these guys remind me that some of us are good…

Signed, thanks. The butterfly pictured in the photo is NOT the Monarch (D. Plexippus) but a well-known…

meet our writers

Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!
ads keep care2 free

more from causes




Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.