Tuberculosis (TB) is curable and preventable. But TB kills 1.6 million people a year (or 4,000 people a day) and is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
The stigma and adhering to a treatment regime are key reasons this extremely infectious disease is still a risk.
According to the WHO, to beat TB, a patient must take four antimicrobial drugs for at least six months. But health officials across the globe say that without supervision and support, many TB patients will not finish their medications.
“Non-medical drivers of disease such as stigma, access to care challenges, burdensome treatment protocols, and a lack of information, motivation, and support make it difficult for patients to do the right thing and take their medication,” said Jon Rathauser, CEO and founder of Israeli digital health startup Keheala, in a statement on Thursday.
Keheala, a Tel Aviv-based startup with offices in Nairobi, Kenya is on a mission to improve healthcare access and treatment outcomes for patients.
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First founded in 2014, Keheala developed a “low-tech” solution to help motivate treatment adherence and get patients to take their medications on time, using basic phone features – like SMS or text – and behavioral science strategies for a platform based on USSD – unstructured supplementary service data.
“This means patients can dial in (*694# in Kenya) and text Keheala,” Rathauser tells NoCamels. Shortcodes are available on 99 percent of basic feature phones. The platform securely delivers reminders, disease information and enable self-verification of treatment, simplifying and informing the process of care.
Here’s how it works: The program sends text messages to patients to take their meds on time. If the patient takes his meds, he sends a text back saying so and will get another message of thanks. If he doesn’t respond, more text messages are sent, followed by phone calls from Keheala supporters to verify adherence.
“They can receive a ‘push’ via SMS with reminders to take their meds, and they can self-verify that they took it, as well as connect with supporters and mentors,” says Rathauser, who is originally from New Jersey and holds public health and business degrees from McGill University and the Technion Institute. For example, if the system recognizes that there has been no activity or ‘check-in,’ “a mentor can initiate a text conversation and ask how the person is doing and if they need anything.”