CAPE TOWN A local doctor has developed a pill bottle that uses cellphone technology to remind patients to take their medicines and warns them if they are about to take an extra dose by mistake.
Tuberculosis (TB) patients in South Africa now have a new weapon in the fight against the disease - a cellphone. A pilot project in the coastal city of Cape Town is using the text message service on cellphones to remind patients to take their medication, saving the over-stretched public health services time and money. Treatment for the disease, however, is still a problem. TB patients must strictly follow a difficult drug regime of four tablets, five times a week, for six months. Patients end up being resentful of such an oppressive process, project creator Dr David Green, told PlusNews. Up to 300 patients in a local clinic in Cape Town have been receiving a text message on their cellphones reminding them to take their pills. When patients complained that the initial message take your medicine now was too boring, Green added disease information and tips about lifestyle management. The initiative uses technology in a simple, cheap and flexible way: a software application captures the patient's details into a database, a computer server reads the database, and then sends personalised messages to each patient. At a relatively inexpensive of about 12 rands per patient per month for the short message service (SMS) reminder, the local health authority has decided to extend the pilot project to other clinics with high cellphone ownership. Health experts were initially sceptical whether the uptake of cellphone technology was high enough to justify the project. Research into cellphone ownership, however, found that one in three people with TB in the township of Khayelitsha had cell phones. At the clinic where the pilot study was conducted, 71 percent of TB patients had access to a cellphone. Medical experts have cautiously welcomed the project. Its certainly an interesting and novel way to fight a major problem, Dr Karen Weyer, director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) TB Unit, said. But an increase in adherence could only be tested by randomised control trials, she noted. The MRC and the University of Cape Town will embark on trials to compare the effectiveness of the SMS reminder service against the cost of non-compliance to TB treatment. (Soure: IRIN, 14 April, 2003).