Mobile lifeline for HIV+ people

Mobile technology development specialist, Fundamo Pty. Ltd., has contributed to the fight against HIV/AIDS in South Africa by providing ongoing support, with technical development, for Cell Life, a mobile information support initiative designed for the management and treatment of the pandemic.

Cell Life, a nongovernmental organization based at the University of Cape Town, uses cellular technology to deliver an innovative technology-based platform for communications, information gathering and logistical support, to monitor the delivery of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to more than 2, 000 HIV-positive people around the country.

Fundamo's role in the project involves providing assistance to Cell Life's developers in the areas of system design, architecture and project management.

Using cellular technology, Cell Life aims to provide infrastructure for communication between therapeutic counsellors and caregivers, doctors, hospitals, clinics and patients, so encouraging patients to adhere to lifelong ARV treatment.

The architecture of the system has three elements: a central database and Web server, remote access to the database from any Internet-connected PC, and SMS-based communications to and from the server via cellphone.

"Communication is fundamental for the successful treatment of HIV/AIDS," says Ulrike Rivett, MD of Cell Life. "A carefully monitored program ensures that the patient maintains a strict medication regimen, enhancing adherence, communication, delivery, support and ongoing monitoring of the patient's condition."

Rivett explains the importance of these key issues in the advancement of knowledge about the nature of the disease.

It is imperative for patients to receive their drugs on time, and that they take their drugs according to a prescribed schedule, in order for the drugs to work effectively, and limit the development of drug-resistant strains of the virus.

SMSs also act as the lifeline between doctor, caregivers and a large number of patients.

Doctors and nurses can access a central database by logging on to a secure Web site to assess individual patients in remote villages, using information logged by the patients' caregivers or counsellors.

Such information provides details of the physical well-being of the patient, the therapy administered and any side effects that the patient may be experiencing. Based on this information, doctors may contact the caregiver via SMS, or arrange to see the patient.

The timely delivery of drugs to satellite hospitals in rural areas requires prior knowledge of the pattern of drug consumption, so that distribution from pharmacies can be automated.

This is designed to take place using a preemptive analysis via SMS of patients receiving drugs, and of stocks held by satellite clinics.

"The marriage of the latest cellphone and computing technology has seen the creation of a central information portal, where current advances in AIDS treatment can be assessed, together with information about ways of combating side-effects," says Rivett.

ICT allows the patterns of disease to be mapped, and for crucial data such as the mutation rate of the virus, the effectiveness and resistance to drugs to be collected and collated.

"The results of lab tests can securely be stored in an encrypted database and sent via SMS directly to medical personnel. Hospitals have secure access to the database, and researchers can extract real-time data for the mapping of the disease in southern Africa," says Rivett.

"Fundamo's relationship with Cell Life has given us the opportunity to contribute our mobile development skills, knowledge and industry network to the project, while at the same time learning a great deal from this critical social initiative," says Hannes van Rensburg, CEO of Fundamo.

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