Despite the increasing availability of medication, HIV/AIDS continues to be a major healthcare and economic burden. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 35 million people are currently living with HIV, with more than 2.1 million new patients diagnosed and more than 1.5 million patients dying from HIV/ AIDS annually.
A vast majority of people living with HIV/AIDS are in low- and middle-income countries, in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia-Pacific. Challenges in these areas extend beyond the medical management of the disease. For example, HIV-related stigma is still a fact of life people with the disease. It hinders those with the virus from telling their partners and family about their status, it threatens their access to healthcare, it increases their vulnerability to physical violence, and it affects their ability to earn a living.
Furthermore, in low- and middle-income countries, the number of doctors in general, and the availability of HIV centers specifically, is substantially lower than in high-income countries. People typically have to travel over a large distance before they can access HIV medical care. HIV-related stigma further complicates matters for patients because of the challenge of being transparent about the purpose of their travels. In addition, the average education level of people with HIV/AIDS tends to be in the lower- to middle-income settings. Thus, some sufferers have a limited understanding of HIV/AIDS and how to manage the disease. This limited understanding leads to lack of compliance with medication, problems with depression, and continued HIV transmission because of unsafe behaviors.
The search for an appropriate answer for HIV patients in India led to setting up Project UNITE – a consortium between Janssen and external expert institutions such as the Grameen Foundation, Indian Institute of Technology, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education and 10 HIV clinics in India. Project UNITE has developed a cell-phone based platform called TAMA (Treatment Advice By Mobile Phone) that supports HIV patients and their clinical caretakers in managing the disease.
TAMA, the cell-phone based platform, has multiple features for the patient:
- A pill reminder service
- A clinic appointment reminder service
- Educational information on HIV and how to manage it
- A symptom management module that provides information about HIV symptoms or medication side-effects
Doctors and clinical caregivers can view, via the web-based interface, all of a patient’s interactions with the platform and remotely monitor the patient’s health condition.