60-Second Science

Text Message Outreach Improves HIV Patients' Outcomes

A weekly text message check-in with HIV patients in Kenya helped improve therapy compliance and lower viral load. Cynthia Graber reports

You’ve got a text message. You open it up. “How are you?” it asks. That seems like an almost throw-away question. But that simple message once a week, made HIV-positive recipients significantly more likely to take their medicine and remain healthy. The study, conducted in Kenya, was published in The Lancet. [Richard Lester et al., "Effects of a mobile phone short message service on antiretroviral treatment adherence in Kenya (WelTel Kenya1): a randomised trial"]

Researchers at the University of British Columbia enrolled 538 patients between 2007 and 2009. Half the patients received the weekly text message, and were asked to respond within 48 hours. They could text back either “doing well” or “have a problem.” Clinicians were then able to follow up with people who had a problem or didn’t respond.

The texts weren’t medicine reminders, they were just to let the patients know that someone was thinking about them. Apparently it worked—study participants said they felt like someone cared. And that may have helped them take care of themselves. Because the ones who received the texts were 12 percent more likely than the nonrecipients to have undetectable levels of the virus a year after being infected. Which means that the simple, friendly outreach of a text message can save lives.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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