Think for a moment: what happens when you are at out a bar and go to exchange numbers with someone. What number did you just give them? Was it your home phone or your cellphone number? Are the two the same? It is not shocking that the most adults have cellphones, and let’s be serious – a lot of people could not function without them. As noted by a recent American study, cellphones have a variety of uses well beyond making phone calls. cellphones are now used for, among other things: talking, texting, taking and sending pictures/videos, searching the internet, or just playing games.
cellphones are a modern invention, only hitting the mass market in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They have come under plenty of scrutiny, particularly for health-related side-effects. There have been numerous studies on the health effects of cellphones, including claims that they may be linked with cancer and social behaviors, although there is still much debate in the scientific community and the conclusions for these hypotheses are still pending.
Potential negative side effects aside, in our age, when cellphones are essentially hand-held computers, can they be incorporated instead into improving one’s health? This is a question that researches of UBC have been addressing in the context of treating HIV. That’s right: using a cellphone to help treat HIV.
HIV patients must take daily doses of antiretroviral (ARV) medications in order to repress the virus and reduce its likelihood of resistance. As anyone who has taken medication for a long period of time can tell you, it gets rather tiring to continually take pills every day, and even more so when there is no end in sight. But Dr Richard Lester has improved the treatment of HIV patients in Africa by incorporating regular text messaging into the treatment plan.
In this modified treatment plan patients were sent weekly text messages from their clinic asking, “How are you?” (translated from English for the benefit of the patient). The patient was expected to respond within two days, “OK,” or, “Problem.” Patients who failed to respond, and those who responded with ‘problem,’ were contacted by a member of the clinic to help them and advise them on how to improve or change their treatment plans. Patients involved in the text-message system were more likely to follow their treatment protocols – and had greater suppression of their HIV viral load during follow-up tests.
Patients also responded that they felt cared for because someone was checking in with them once a week. With so few treatment options and vaccines towards HIV still years away from completion, the incorporation of texting into treatment plans is an excellent improvement on the treatment of HIV both in Africa and at home. It has been reported that patients in Africa (who have access to medication) are more likely to regularly take their medication than those in the West (where HIV is less prevalent but cellphones are more prevalent) – perhaps we should start texting patients in developed countries as well.
Text-messaging does more than just improve the outcomes of the patients; it also reduces the cost of treating HIV infected patients. Regularly texting a patient is predicted to cost $8/year, and each standard text message costs 8¢. A patient’s single round trip to a clinic costs, on average, $3, and that is just to speak to someone at a clinic; a phone call costs 23¢/minute. A text-messaging system seems like an excellent way to improve HIV treatment in the developing world, and can surely be applied to treatment of other diseases. And to think how simple this all is!
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.
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photo credit Samantha Celera