Uganda is at the forefront of fighting AIDS in Africa.
Uganda has been widely praised for its effective AIDS policy, which saw condom use promoted and disease rates slashed from over 15 percent in the early 1990’s to less then half, at around 6 percent.
One of the reasons for the decrease in disease rates is through the use of targeted educational campaigns that remind people to take their medication. Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) need a compliance rate of 95% or greater to have maxium effectiveness, so programs aimed at increasing awareness and medication adherence are driving the decrease in AIDs rates.
To do this, a joint collaborative project between local clinics in Ghana and a Dutch NGO have been harnessing the power of mobile technology to help fight HIV. This ongoing project involves using mobile phones and text messages to help remind patients diagnosed with the HIV virus to take their ARVs regularly.
Nayiga, an HIV-positive health worker in the Kampala suburb of Kawempe, explains the program.
“The text messages would come twice a day and were saying things like ‘Dear friend, please take care of yourself’ and when you got them you knew it was time to take your medicine. As a human being you can always forget to take the drugs — maybe not for the whole day but sometimes for some hours — but this service really helps you to remember.”
The program tries to make medication compliance a positive experience, sometimes offering incentives such as phone credit for answering brief SMS quizzes about AIDS. Because of this, the article states that the number of people in Uganda taking the ARV drugs has risen from 75 percent to over 90 percent. Bas Hoefman, founder of the Dutch-run NGO Text to Change, describes the switch to mobile.
“There was a fatigue for people receiving the old messages via traditional media — mobile phones are now so commonly used, especially among the youth, that we realised it was time to repackage the information.”
While success is evident, funding for these programs is harder to find. Foreign donations have been dwindling, including aid from the US government. As a result, alternative methods of financing these types of programs are being investigated.
“We are looking for business models of how we can combine sending out health messages with other messages that people are maybe willing to pay for,” Hoefman said, citing market research and advertising as two possibilities.
The iMedicalApps team has previously reported on the FDA approval of ingestible pill sensors. These sensors increase medication compliance by tracking when a pill is taken. We noted that the Proteus medication adherence platform consists of two core technologies which work in tandem to provide a passive body area network to capture detailed and personalized context-aware data.
While probably not currently a feasible option in countries like Uganda, it does shed some light into the future possibilities of medication compliance across the globe. Once these types of technologies become more commonplace, the costs associated with them should decrease accordingly. This may then make it an affordable option for medication compliance in Uganda and other countries.