projecteverest

An App for AIDS

by
Claire Bushrod
Claire Bushrod | Jul 28, 2017 | in Health Consulting

HIV/AIDS is the number 1 cause of death in Malawi. Nearly 30% of all deaths are caused by it. Blantyre, the region of Malawi in which Project Everest operates, has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the whole country and it is mostly young people being newly infected. Regardless of government and NGO interventions, there are still 33,000 new diagnoses each year. 

There are many problems that stem from HIV/AIDS. Most of the doctors and clinicians we have interviewed as part of the health assessment here in Blantyre have said that HIV has been one of the main causes for malnutrition in adults, and that many of their patients are HIV positive, but coming in for other illnesses caused by consequent immunodeficiency. 

 There are many NGOs that work to combat HIV within Malawi. One burgeoning NGO is the Forum for AIDS Counselling and Training (FACT). We were lucky enough to attend one of their events and look at how they approach the issues surrounding sexual health with youth. It gave us an insight into what the next generation are seeking in relation to health care and education. It was inspiring to see so many young people interested in learning more about how to prevent HIV/AIDS and how to manage it once affected. I therefore think there is a big market for a product or service that could provide education to young people, and also give support to those affected by the illness.               

Even though HIV is an issue that really needs to be talked about, it appears that the stigma is still strong. When conducting interviews many respondents were apprehensive about discussing HIV and appeared to skirt around the issues, with only a few indicators of what they were really talking about. We often had to read between the lines to understand the struggles these people are facing.  

So with all this information I want to suggest an avenue the incoming Malawi health team could look into. The idea is inspired by an pitch on shark tank from the healthcare tech startup called CancerAid which is an app that links cancer patients together with support groups and healthcare professionals. Here’s a link to the CancerAid app: http://www.canceraid.com.au/the-app/. The app is complete with a profile of the patient, treatment plans, symptom journals and a community newsfeed. This app will revolutionise the treatment of cancer patients in Australia and I believe something similar could be implemented here in Malawi to fight HIV/AIDS. 

I propose introducing a smartphone app that could be used by individuals and medical professionals alike. The basic concept follows; when a new patient is confirmed HIV positive they create a profile with their doctor. The profile should be password protected and not linked to a specific device. This is important as many people in the communities surrounding Blantyre don’t have consistent access to the same smartphone. The doctor will then input a treatment plan so the patient can review what steps they need to take to control and suppress the virus. I believe this could be very beneficial to patients as when the diagnosis is first made many people will have trouble taking in all the information in one go. By having a review of their treatment plan on the app it relieves the pressure they may feel. Similar to the CancerAid app this HIV app would have a symptom tracker. This would allow patients to track many of their symptoms to illnesses that result from HIV. 

On the app patients will also have access to education and a community. The education portion could have quick videos or articles explaining how to prevent the spread of HIV, how to manage your illness, and also how to prevent getting other illnesses due to a weakened immune system. Therefore, it could feature articles on basic hygiene practices. Videos would be valuable as the literacy rate in Malawi is 74.8%, and more specifically 58.6% for women, which is significant as young married women are at the highest risk for contracting HIV. I think it would be beneficial to have the educational portion of the app accessible to anyone regardless of their profile on the app. This is because the education would provide preventative information for young people, like those at the FACT event. We found that the use of smartphones is more prevalent in the youth, than the ageing population. However, smartphones are still not widely used and this could become a barrier to the distribution of this app. 

The community section would have forums where patients could ask questions of people in the same situation as them, but also doctors would have access to the forums to supply accurate answers to any queries. This would provide the patients somewhere private to discuss without fear of the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. 

This app would be an important tool for many people as it is difficult to retain information after receiving life changing news. Hopefully, through the use of the app, a positive diagnosis will no longer be a detriment to a persons life.

Nevertheless there are some challenges this app will face. There are other products out there that are ineffective and have therefore developed, within the community, a lack of trust in technology. A particular example of this is an app that can “diagnose” HIV through thumbprint analysis. Obviously, this app gives false positives and false negatives, leading people to believe healthcare and smartphone technology would never go together.

 

Perhaps this app could be included as an aspect of the MedMD app. I would love to hear your opinions and feedback on whether you think this idea is applicable and practical.

edited on Jul 28, 2017 by Claire Bushrod

Emily Armstrong Jul 28, 2017

I liked how your app aims to help those who feel stigmatised and isolated by linking them with others. The idea of having a profile that is constantly updated removes aded pressure to people who are already in a very difficult and what can only be assumed to be mentally draining. I would potentially making a website the patience can log into. This might make it easier for doctors

Reply 4

Dolly Phiri Aug 3, 2017

Hey Claire, this is amazing! I love how it targets HIV/AIDS specifically because that is a very dominant issue in Malawi and is claiming a lot of lives. The app is such an innovative way to de-stigmatise the issue and get people talking about the disease in a supportive environment. Including it in the MedED app is actually a really good idea because you have stated that those living with HIV are more prone to develop other illnesses due to immunodeficiency. Incorporating these two will allow them to have one platform for accessing all their health needs, I suppose.

However, in the early stages to get more people to adopt the idea, I recommend that it is anonymous in the section where the individual can ask questions. This maintains confidentiality and allows people to be more comfortable to ask any questions they may have. Maybe have the name only visible to the doctor, that way they can give more accurate advice.
In regards to the videos though, will this be offline? Because an issue we noticed was lack of access to wifi and data is actually very expensive so that could be a deterrent.

Overall, I really do like this idea and think it would be very beneficial to the Malawian community and facilitating a supportive environment to discuss such a sensitive issue.

Reply 1

Soni Lawson Aug 3, 2017

Claire, this is a great concept. I really do think this app would be beneficial in many ways not just in health but it would provide education through the app as well. Which is also important so they are aware of the information and can contain the information. instead of hearing the doctors terminology that can be hard to understand, its educating people about health issues.

Reply 2

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