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Using mHealth for HIV/TB Treatment Support in Lesotho: Enhancing Patient-Provider Communication in the START Study

Yael Hirsch-Moverman, Amrita Daftary, Katharine A Yuengling, Suzue Saito, Moeketsi Ntoane, Koen Frederix, Llang B Maama, Andrea A Howard
Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes: JAIDS 2017 January 1, 74 Suppl 1: S37-S43
27930610

BACKGROUND: mHealth is a promising means of supporting adherence to treatment. The Start TB patients on ART and Retain on Treatment (START) study included real-time adherence support using short-text messaging service (SMS) text messaging and trained village health workers (VHWs). We describe the use and acceptability of mHealth by patients with HIV/tuberculosis and health care providers.

METHODS: Patients and treatment supporters received automated, coded medication and appointment reminders at their preferred time and frequency, using their own phones, and $3.70 in monthly airtime. Facility-based VHWs were trained to log patient information and text message preferences into a mobile application and were given a password-protected mobile phone and airtime to communicate with community-based VHWs. The use of mHealth tools was analyzed from process data over the study course. Acceptability was evaluated during monthly follow-up interviews with all participants and during qualitative interviews with a subset of 30 patients and 30 health care providers at intervention sites. Use and acceptability were contextualized by monthly adherence data.

FINDINGS: From April 2013 to August 2015, the automated SMS system successfully delivered 39,528 messages to 835 individuals, including 633 patients and 202 treatment supporters. Uptake of the SMS intervention was high, with 92.1% of 713 eligible patients choosing to receive SMS messages. Patient and provider interviews yielded insight into barriers and facilitators to mHealth utilization. The intervention improved the quality of health communication between patients, treatment supporters, and providers. HIV-related stigma and technical challenges were identified as potential barriers.

CONCLUSIONS: The mHealth intervention for HIV/tuberculosis treatment support in Lesotho was found to be a low-tech, user-friendly intervention, which was acceptable to patients and health care providers.

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