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The Key to HIV Treatment: Text Messaging

A new study published online in The Lancet shows that simply checking in via SMS can be enough to encourage adherence to a drug regimen.

mobile phone text message

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Mambo?”

That single word, which means “How are you?” in Kiswahili, can have profound influence, according to a study published online today in The Lancet. Kenyans with HIV who received a weekly text message checking in were 12% more likely than a control group to have undetectable levels of the HIV virus one year after starting antiretroviral treatment. Even though the texts didn’t explicitly encourage them to follow their drug regimen, the weekly check-in–which participants reported made them feel “like someone cares”–apparently was enough to significantly boost adherence to the regimen.

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,” Dr. Richard Lester, the University of British Columbia researcher who led the study, said in a press release. A dormant virus, naturally, leads to a better prognosis–and also reduces transmission rates. Lester’s study was the first randomized trial of its kind. “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,” said Lester.

The study comes at a time when mobile carriers are expanding service in Africa. Early last week, Nokia announced that it was bringing its mobile-based information service, Ovi Life Tools, to Nigeria, following success in Indonesia, India, and China. Nigeria is the first country to receive the service, which will be supported in three languages, according to a press release: English, Hausa, and Pidgin English. For one Euro per month, users of the service will have access to information on agriculture (crop prices, in particular, with 25 currently supported), entertainment (global soccer scores), and health. The service relays information on HIV/AIDS, hypertension, and diabetes, and can walk women through on what to expect from each week of their pregnancy.

[Image: Flickr user whiteafrican]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal

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