Using Wireless Technology to Save Lives of HIV-Positive Mothers in Zambia

July 29, 2013

Despite advances in medical technology and pharmaceuticals, HIV/AIDS is still responsible for one in four maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Fortunately, antiretroviral therapy (ART) improves the health and long-term survival of people living with HIV, but only if high adherence is maintained. For pregnant and postpartum women in particular, adherence is currently perilously low. This often results in further progression of the disease and death for the women themselves as well as transmission, death or orphanhood for their children. Low adherence can also create stronger,  drug-resistant strains of HIV. In response, Lisa Messersmith, an Associate Professor of Public Health and faculty at the BU Center for Global Health and Development, has proposed the “WiseMama” Zambia Project to improve adherence to ART.

“WiseMama” Zambia is an attempt to save the lives of mothers and newborns in developing countries and an answer to the challenge put forth by “Saving Lives at Birth,” a global partnership of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationGrand Challenges Canada (funded by the Government of Canada), and the U.K’s Department for International Development (DFID). “WiseMama” Zambia attempts to use technology in addition to  interactive counseling and peer support to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy. The project will employ Wisepill, a pill container that wirelessly monitors adherence and alerts patients via personalized text messages when doses are not taken on time. The device also sends alerts to the women’s support groups in the area who will then use the monitoring data to provide follow up counseling and support. The goal of the “WiseMama” Zambia Project is to test whether a wireless technology adherence tool  improves antiretroviral therapy adherence in pregnant and postpartum women in Zambia and to assess cost-effectiveness of this approach. If successful, this study has tremendous potential to create greater demand for adherence support that may increase retention in care for and long-term survival of these women.

Professor Messersmith’s “WiseMama” Zambia project is one of 53 finalists for the “Saving Lives at Birth” development challenge. She will be presenting her ideas to a panel in Washington, D.C. from July 29-31 in the hopes of receiving funding for implementation.   The public is invited to vote for their favorite innovation with voting closing July 31 at 11:00 am.

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