Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Are Text Messages Helping HIV Victims with Treatment?

Text messaging and its influence on HIV treatment.

Posted by Ari Morgenthau

Image Credit: Alton, Creative Commons 3.0.
Author's Update:
A recent study by Dr. Frank Scott is currently under dispute because of its small sample size relative to its conclusions, therefore the first part of this article covering that research was removed until the conclusions of the study are resolved. It is felt that the conclusions made in the study, that individuals who hyper-text and hyper network (send more than 120 text/day or spend 3 or more hours social networking) are more likely to engage in risky behavior including sex, alcohol, fighting, and drugs. The study was conducted in the Cleveland area and may not be representative of the general population. For more on the study please watch the video bellow.

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 Dr. R Lester, a professor at the University of British Columbia, has completed a trial in Africa that uses regular text messaging to improve the treatment of HIV patients. When treating a person with HIV it is imperative that they continually take Antiretroviral (ARV) medications every day in order to suppress HIV and keep it from becoming resistant to the medication. As anyone who has taken meds for a long period of time can tell you it gets rather tiring to continually take meds ever day and even more so when there is no end in sight.
In Dr. Lesters trial patients were sent weekly text messages from their clinic saying “How are you?” (Translated to English for the benefit of the reader) the patient was expected to respond within two days either “OK” or “Problem”. Patients who failed to respond, and those who responded with "problem", were contacted by a member of the clinic to help and advise them on how to improve or change their treatment plan. When compared to a control group (patients on the normal course of treatment, ie no regular texts) it was found that texted patients were more likely to follow their treatment protocols. Further it was found that patients receiving text messages had greater suppression of their HIV viral load during scheduled follow-up tests.

Patients also responded that they felt cared for because someone was checking in with them once a week. This trial is an excellent improvement on the treatment of HIV both in Africa and at home. It has been reported that patients in Africa are more likely to regularly take their medication than those in the west (where HIV is less prevalent but cell phones are more prevalent), maybe we should start texting patients in developed countries as well? Texting can also greatly reduce the overall economic burden of treating HIV infected patients, where as regularly texting patients is predicted to cost $8USD a year and a single text message cost $0.08 USD/text. A single round trip to a clinic for a patient cost on average $3USD and that is just to speak to someone at the clinic. I don’t know about you but this seems like an excellent way to improve treatment of patients and can likely be applied to other disease, and treatments.


Frank S MD, MS. (2010). Hyper-texting and hyper-networking: A new health risk category for teens? American Public Health Association. source url

Lester RT, Mills EJ, Kairiri A, et al. (2009). The HAART cell phone adherence trial (WelTel Kenya I): a randomized controlled trial protocol. Trials; 10:87-97.

Lester RT, Kairiri A. Mobilizing cell phones to improve antiretroviral adherence and follow-up in Kenya: a randomized controlled trial in progress. WHO Essential Medicines Monitor; 2: 1-3.


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