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Text-for-Health: New Dignitas app brings diabetes, TB and HIV info to Malawian phones

In its mission to deliver quality and timely care, Dignitas International (DI) has developed mHealthTip, a Short Message Service (SMS) application that allows patients to receive health-related information on their mobile phones as a text message.

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), DI’s Data/ICT, Medical and Research Departments collaborated with Zomba Central Hospital (ZCH) to develop the app to better serve the health needs of specific groups of patients.

Project leader Alfred Matengeni, DI’s DATA/ICT Manager, says the application is intended for patients that are receiving treatment for TB, HIV and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension and cervical cancer at the hospital’s Integrated Care Clinic.

“The messages they will be receiving include information on prevention and management of non-communicable diseases and other infections that we treat. We also send information about good eating habits and the importance of physical exercise, as well as other lifestyle issues,” he said.

Matengeni says the new service will help patients reduce the amount of time, money and other resources they’d otherwise spend travelling to the hospital for health advice.

The app development team is also exploring the best ways to apply mHealthTip to other health issues.

“We are also planning to use the app for Antiretroviral (ART) and Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) appointment reminders to reduce the number of people that default from HIV treatment, share information between health facilities and community health workers for referrals and linkages,” said Matengeni.

Jack Msonkho, Senior Data Management Coordinator at DI, says recruitment started 2 months ago at ZCH for the official launch of the app, and that a large number of patients have already filled out consent forms that include their cell phone number and home address.

“We have already recruited close to 1,150 patients. But our goal is to reach to all patients that receive treatment and care for non-communicable diseases at the Zomba Central Hospital – that means we’ll be communicating with thousands more. Our doctors will send the messages and the patients will instantly receive them,” he explained.

This mHealthTip screenshot shows the interface doctors will work will when sending health messages to patients.

This mHealthTip screenshot shows the interface doctors will work will when sending health messages to patients.

Msonkho added that the application has been designed to send messages to all patients, or segmented categories such as females only, males only or expectant mothers only.

Msonkho said feedback has so far been encouraging: “So far we have received positive feedback from Dignitas employees that participated in the initial mHealthTip pilot. Our patients are now eagerly awaiting our health tips , which we will start sending as soon as we finalize developing everything.”

It only took one month to design and implement the application, which Msokho says is not expensive to run. Low cost is especially import for the long-term sustainability of the app because of the serious resource constrains Malawi faces.

Victor Singano is a physician who runs Tisungane Clinic – a flagship HIV Clinic that DI founded in 2004 at ZCH. He welcomed the development.

“This is a very good tool. The main focus is on prevention but we also hope to use it for personal care. We want to reduce the number of people that default on their HIV treatment, and those who miss doctors’ appointments. With mHealthTip, we can remind them about their schedules through mobile messages,” says Singano.

In terms of readiness, he indicates that “We’ve already created the messages, but we first need to standardize them. That’s what we are doing now. We are working closely with the Data/ICT Department, and hopefully, we will be able to move out of the pilot phase and start using the application with patients soon.”

Jack Msonkho demonstrates how mHealthTip works.

Jack Msonkho demonstrates how mHealthTip works.

Dignitas InternationalText-for-Health: New Dignitas app brings diabetes, TB and HIV info to Malawian phones