The WelTel Story
The concept for WelTel was formulated in 2005, when Dr. Richard Lester, an infectious disease specialist doing innate immunology research in Kenya, noticed that more than 85% of the patients in the study cohort had access to or owned their own mobile (cell) phone. It was increasingly evident that cell phones were fast becoming ubiquitous in Kenya and that a cellphone revolution was underway. Dr. Lester believed that important scientific knowledge could be gained from designing and implementing a randomized control trial (RCT) to assess the effectiveness of mHealth in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
After careful consultation with patients, health care workers, and field and technology experts, Dr. Lester carried out the trial in 2006. The study assessed the effectiveness of text-messaging in supporting and improving adherence among patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Kenya. The trial’s ground-breaking findings that mobile phone text-messaging improves medication adherence and health outcomes were published in the Lancet in November 2010 and presented at the mHealth Summit in Washington, DC. As a result of the study, a number of evidence-based mHealth innovations have emerged, all of which are patient-centred and medically and scientifically directed.
The vast majority of the population in Africa has gone from having no telephone access to accessing cutting-edge technology of mobile telecommunications to manage their personal and business lives. Kenya alone has over 20 million mobile phone users; over 80% of Kenyans over the age of 15 have a mobile phone, a rate common throughout Africa.
Following the publication of our research in the Lancet in November 2010, we have been busy developing and testing clinically based IT applications for scale-up and use with national and global health programs. There are currently several projects being piloted in North America and Africa modeled after the original WelTel protocol.
Kenya pioneered the first mobile money transfer service anywhere in the world, known as Mpesa. Being a locally registered organisation, we are proud to show the world that once again, Kenya can lead the way in the scientific implementation of innovative mHealth strategies that will penetrate the globe!
We believe that future implementation for ARV treatment in Kenya, and eventually worldwide, should include this evidence-based model.
We also believe strongly that scale-up without scientific implementation could have negative consequences for the continent, including the unnecessary waste of money and limited resources, and most importantly the loss of human life!
The results of our randomised clinical study, the first assessing mHealth in HIV/AIDS in Africa, published in The Lancet, can be viewed here! (NB: Registration is required, but free)
WelTel would like to acknowledge funding by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – PEPFAR Public Health Evaluation (PHE) and the International Development Research Centre’s Africa Health Systems Initiative Support to African Research Partnerships (AHSI-RES).