Cell-Life, a South African company launched by professors at the University of Cape Town and Cape Peninsula University of Technology, has developed software that enables medical professionals and caregivers to monitor patients receiving treatment for HIV/AIDS by transmitting vital information via mobile phone. Capitalizing on widespread mobile network coverage and use in South Africa, Cell-Life’s intervention allows patients to send information (symptoms, medications, dosage, dietary concerns, and other health data) using a cell phone equipped with a special menu that allows it to capture specific data. The information is transferred via SMS to an information database, which doctors and/or nurses can access over a secure connection (http://www.shareideas.org/index.php/CellLife). Patients also receive a text message each month that asks them to answer several questions about their health, which they communicate via phone or text to a central hotline. If a patient’s response merits an in-person visit, the health care worker contacts them. Text messages are a form of triage, allowing already overburdened health care workers to expend their efforts with increased efficiency. Cell-Life also uses technology to support ART adherence among patients, sending out daily text messages to remind ARTpatients about taking their medicines (Of note: PSI’s affiliate in Zambia, the Society for Family Health, is currently using a similar approach to remind men of safe healing approaches and sexual risk reduction following circumcision).
This innovative use of technology appears to have great potential for addressing some of the communication challenges faced by HIV service providers and their patients. Key questions remain, however: Can text messages really improve ARTadherence? To what extent can texting effectively replace face-to-face communication between a patient and a health service provider? How big a barrier will cost be for less-resourced patients?
Also of interest to the many PSI country platforms implementing peer education and IPC activities: Cell-Life has worked with AED/South Africa to develop a system in which school representatives text information about peer education sessions into a central database, allowing for easy monitoring of large, geographically disparate interventions.
For more information, see: www.cell-life.org
Guest blogger bio: Hailing originally from Zimbabwe, Boniface Hlabano is a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, where he has been studying HIV prevention and health program management. Boniface is spending a month at PSI/Washington to hone his skills in BCC and quality assurance for counseling and testing. Back in Zimbabwe, he is the Executive Director of Matabeleland AIDS Council, a local HIV/AIDS NGO that is part of the New Start network.