By Michelle Betton
mHealth (mobile health technology) continues to be a big theme at this year’s International AIDS Conference. Wednesday morning, representatives from the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Cell Life, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, and the mHealth Alliance discussed various mobile technology interventions in HIV and AIDS programs.
mHealth is currently being used for many different interventions, including education and awareness, supply chain management, training for health workers, and monitoring and evaluation. The work of the panel participants focused on HIV/AIDS interventions in South Africa, Kenya, and Lesotho.
Dr. Peter Benjamin of Cell Life described the work of his organization, which uses technology to improve health and to meet social challenges. Cell Life works in 10 countries in Africa, primarily in South Africa, creating open source eHealth (electronic health) technology. Their products are used in social and behavior change communications, health systems strengthening, and policy amongst other topics.
Caricia Catalani of InSTEDD presented a literature review that delved into the question of whether or not evidence exists proving that mHealth is effective. From her findings (based on 62 articles focused on HIV/AIDS program studies), it remains unclear whether or not mHealth is effective overall in combating HIV/AIDS barriers. Several interventions have been quite effective, such as those focused on youth, community health workers, appointment and adherence reminders, and TB care, while others have not shown conclusive evidence of effectiveness. Catalani stressed that increasing local and end user development of mHealth technologies would likely increase the usefulness and effectiveness of these interventions.
Following on Caricia’s presentation, Evelyn Kibuchi of the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium (KANCO) described how a mapping system of facilities and clinics across regions makes facilitation and referral of services easier. Consortium member organizations enter their location and contact information into a database that then shows which services are provided in a given region, and exactly where. This makes it easier for clinics to refer clients if necessary, and helps clients facilitate transportation. In future, KANCO intends to begin sending SMS messages with information on services locally available. There is also the possibility of clients finding and receiving home-based care based on organizations in their vicinity.
EGPAF’s own Dr. Appolinaire Tiam discussed the impact of 3G technology and laptops in Lesotho. Because of Lesotho’s mountainous landscape, HIV test results can take up to 12 weeks to return to families. The Foundation’s Lesotho program acquired laptops with 3G technology for district clinical coordinators, allowing the program to receive digital lab results and send them to families in four weeks instead of 12. Tiam noted that, before the 3G-capable laptops, 55 percent of children who waited for more than two months for HIV test results died before receiving then. With 3G technology in clinics, child deaths have decreased to 5 percent.
While evidence is still inconclusive and barriers still exist to optimal effectiveness of mHealth interventions, there is some evidence that mHealth can have a considerable impact on the health of those affected by HIV/AIDS.