TB drug monitoring goes mobile

Tuberculosis, or TB, is highly contagious, but curable … as long as patients continue treatment.

Until recently, TB patients who needed help taking their medications on schedule would see a health worker in person for every dose. But last year, during hurricane Harvey, patients in Houston used mobile phones to record themselves taking their meds. Despite the hurricane’s disruptive floods, health workers were verifying their patients’ regimens from afar.

It is a scenario becoming more common worldwide. From rural areas in Africa and South Asia to Latin America, people are gaining access to health care via mobile technologies. Whether they live far from health clinics or are displaced by a natural disaster, many TB patients connect with health workers on a mobile phone or laptop.

Protecting public health

When people with TB sneeze, cough or spit, the bacteria spread through the air, where healthy people inhale them. An estimated 10.4 million people contracted TB in a recent year, according to the World Health Organization. And when people fail to take their medicine as prescribed, drug-resistant strains — which infect nearly 1 million people a year — can develop.

Sticking to a pill-taking schedule is vital not only for the patient’s health, but also for public health. That’s why virtually observed therapy, or VOT, is a great tool for patients and health providers.

Two doctors looking at computer screen while one is talking on the phone (Shutterstock)

Mobile technology is reducing TB-related deaths. (The number of such deaths continues to drop by around 2 percent each year, the World Health Organization says.)  What’s more, the technology is creating jobs from developing devices and apps to managing care virtually.