Text messages help Kenyan HIV carriers

Nov. 10, 2010 at 8:30 PM
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NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Cellphone text messages are being used to help Kenyans infected with HIV stay healthy and stick to their medication regimens, health researchers say.

A study led by a University of British Columbia researcher and published in the U.K. medical journal The Lancet shows that patients in Kenya who received weekly text-message "check-ins" were 12 percent more likely than a control group to have an undetectable level of the human immunodeficiency virus a year after starting antiretroviral treatment or ART, a university release said Tuesday.

Undetectable viral loads are associated with better health outcomes in people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and with decreased transmission to new partners, the release said.

"ART 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," says lead author Richard Lester, a clinical assistant professor on the UBC Faculty of Medicine.

"But adhering to such a regimen can be particularly difficult in the developing world, where visits to clinics can be arduous and time-consuming, and where civil strife, food shortages, economic hardship and even wars can disrupt people's lives," he said.

Lester conceived of the text-message support system in Nairobi, Kenya, while pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship.

Delivered weekly, the messages weren't intended as medication reminders, the study report said.

Rather, participants reported they felt "like someone cares" and had an opportunity to address any problems quickly as they arose, potentially preventing health crises from occurring.

"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 -- not only in Africa, but around the world, particularly with transient, low-income populations," Lester said.

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