December 29, 2010
Since July, the Kenya AIDS Control Project has been using cell phones to stay in touch with more than 90 HIV-positive pregnant women randomly selected from among those receiving antiretroviral therapy at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi.
From the phone messages, the women can learn how they should eat, when they should take medications and when they should return to the clinic to have their CD4 levels checked.
The first messages are weekly and remind women of their prenatal visits. In the last month of pregnancy, the messages prompt women to take their medications.
Not all women are eligible. Women in the program must live a reasonable distance from the hospital and be able to understand English or Kiswahili. Because illiteracy is so high among the women, researchers have discussed a subsequent trial with voice messages.
Poverty also is common, making it difficult for women to tend to their health even when reminded. Mindful of the stigma that surrounds an HIV diagnosis, health workers text women to take their "vitamins" rather than referring to antiretrovirals. "We don't want to put 'ARVs' in a text message, because we don't know who can come across their phones," explained research nurse Juliet Wangari Njuguna.
The initiative is expected to continue through 2013.