Feasibility of SMS to remind pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV to take antiretroviral treatment in Kilimanjaro region, Tanzania: a pilot study

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Kennedy M Ngowi
Eusebious Maro
Rob E Aarnoutse
Blandina T Mmbaga
Mirjam A. G Sprangers
Peter Reiss
Pythia T Nieuwkerk
I. Marion Sumari-de Boer


Background: Pregnant and breastfeeding Women Living with HIV (WLHIV) often have difficulties in reaching adequate levels of adherence (>95%) to Antiretroviral treatment. “Forgetting” is the most commonly mentioned reason. Sending reminders via SMS is expected to improve adherence. We conducted a pilot study to investigate acceptability, user experience and technical feasibility of sending reminder-SMS to WLHIV.
Methods: This was a 6-months observational pilot-study among WLHIV attending antenatal and postnatal care at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi, Tanzania. Women received a reminder-SMS 30 minutes before usual time of intake. One hour later, they received an SMS asking whether they took medication to which they could reply with ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Messages were sent 3 times a week on randomly chosen days to prevent reliance on daily messages. We calculated the percentage of number of SMS delivered, failed to be delivered, and replied to. We analysed feedback from exit-interviews about experience with the SMS-reminders.
Results: 25 women were enrolled (age 18-45), 2 were lost to follow up. 5,054 messages were sent of which 53 failed to be delivered (1%). 1,880 SMS were sent with a question if medication was taken; 1,012 (54%) messages were replied to, of which 1,003 (99%) were replied with ‘YES’ and closely to ‘YES’, and a total of 9 (1%) with ‘NO’ and ‘closely to NO’. 868 messages (46%) were not responded to due to either dropout, change of phone number, loss of phone or network failure. Results from 18 interviews showed that 16 (89%) women were satisfied with SMS reminders. 2 (11%) were concerned about unwanted disclosure because of the content ‘don’t forget to take medication’ and one reported other privacy issues (6%). 3 (17%) women experienced stigma.
Conclusion: 99%of SMS being delivered indicates that SMS reminders in this resource-limited setting are technically feasible. However, concerns regarding privacy were noted, specifically the risk of unwanted disclosure and the experience of stigma. Participants indicated that being made aware of their adherence, motivated them to adhere better. However, personalised and more neutral content of the SMS might be a way to improving the intervention.

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