Technical and Psychosocial Challenges of mHealth Usage for Antiretroviral Therapy Adherence Among People Living With HIV in a Resource-Limited Setting: Case Series
SourceJMIR Formative Research, 4, 6, (2020), article e14649
Article / Letter to editor
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JMIR Formative Research
SubjectRadboudumc 4: lnfectious Diseases and Global Health RIHS: Radboud Institute for Health Sciences
BACKGROUND: Mobile communication has been found to improve antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence among people living with HIV. In an ongoing randomized clinical trial, 2 mobile communication strategies (ie, sending SMS text messages and real-time medication monitoring [RTMM]) were used to improve adherence to ART among people living with HIV in Tanzania. We noticed remarkable discrepancies between self-reported adherence and adherence recorded by SMS text messaging or RTMM among some of the first trial participants. OBJECTIVE: Our objective was to describe these cases and the observed discrepancies in more detail, to serve as a useful illustration of some of the challenges in using mobile health in resource-limited settings. METHODS: In an ongoing randomized trial, adults living with HIV from two HIV treatment centers in Tanzania who were suspected of low levels of adherence were randomly assigned in a 1:1:1 ratio to receive (1) SMS text message reminders, (2) an RTMM device, or (3) no additional intervention to standard HIV care. During bimonthly study visits, the participants self-reported their level of adherence, received feedback about their level of adherence based on SMS text messaging or RTMM, and discussed strategies to overcome adherence problems with nurses providing HIV care. For the purpose of this report, we selected people living with HIV who had completed 5 follow-up visits and consistently reported more than 95% adherence, while SMS text messaging or RTMM recorded lower than 75% adherence. The participants were invited for a short, face-to-face in-depth interview to explore reasons for this discrepancy. RESULTS: At the time of this analysis, 26 participants had completed follow-up. Six of these evidenced the above-mentioned discrepancies, with an average adherence of 46% based on SMS text messaging or RTMM, while self-reported adherence was 98%. Five of these 6 participants insisted that their adherence to ART was good, with 4 reporting that their adherence to properly using the monitoring device was low. Three participants mentioned concerns about involuntary disclosure of HIV status as a main reason for low adherence to using the device. Two participants were still depending on other reminder cues despite receiving SMS text message or RTMM reminders. Poor network coverage caused low adherence in 1 participant. CONCLUSIONS: Psychosocial barriers were reported as importantly contributing to low adherence, both with respect to use of ART and proper use of the adherence-monitoring device. This case series illustrates that when introducing new digital adherence monitoring technology, researchers should consider psychosocial barriers and distinguish between adherence to device use and adherence to treatment. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Pan African Clinical Trials Registry PACTR201712002844286; https://tinyurl.com/y98q4p3l.
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