Mobile text messaging to improve medication adherence and viral load in a vulnerable Canadian population living with human immunodeficiency virus: a repeated measures study

June 01, 2017

Combination antiretroviral therapy (cART) as treatment for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is effective and available, but poor medication adherence limits benefits, particularly in vulnerable populations. In a Kenyan randomized controlled trial, a weekly text-messaging intervention (WelTel) improved cART adherence and HIV viral load (VL). Despite growing evidence for short message service (SMS) text-message interventions in HIV care, there is a paucity of data utilizing these interventions in marginalized or female cohorts.

This study was undertaken to assess whether the standardized WelTel SMS text-message intervention applied to a vulnerable, predominantly female, population improved cART adherence and VL.

We conducted a repeated measures study of the WelTel intervention in high-risk HIV-positive persons by measuring change in VL, CD4 count, and self-reported adherence 12 months before and 12 months after the WelTel intervention was introduced. Inclusion criteria included VL ≥200 copies/mL, indication for treatment, and meeting vulnerability criteria. Participants were given a mobile phone with unlimited texting (where required), and weekly check-in text messages were sent for one year from the WelTel computer platform. Clinical data were collected for control and intervention years. Participants were followed by a multidisciplinary team in a clinical setting. Outcomes were assessed using Wilcoxon signed ranks tests for change in CD4 and VL from control year to study end and mixed-effects logistic regressions for change in cART adherence and appointment attendance. A secondary analysis was conducted to assess the effect of response rate on the outcome by modeling final log10 VL by number of responses while controlling for mean log10 VL in the control year.

Eighty-five participants enrolled in the study, but 5 withdrew (final N=80). Participants were predominantly female (90%, 72/80) with a variety of vulnerabilities. Mean VL decreased from 1098 copies/mL in the control year to 439 copies/mL at study end (P=.004). Adherence to cART significantly improved (OR 1.14, IQR 1.10-1.18; P<.001), whereas appointment attendance decreased slightly with the intervention (OR 0.81, IQR 0.67-0.99; P=.03). A response was received for 46.57% (1753/3764) of messages sent and 9.62% (362/3764) of text messages sent were replied to with a problem. An outcome analysis examining relationship between reply rate and VL did not meet statistical significance (P=.07), but may be worthy of investigating further in a larger study.

WelTel may be an effective tool for improving cART adherence and reducing VLs among high-risk, vulnerable HIV-positive persons.


King E, Kinvig K, Steif J, Qiu AQ, Maan EJ, Albert AY, Pick N, Alimenti A, Kestler MH, Money DM, Lester RT, Murray MCM


J Med Internet Res. 2017 Jun 1;19(6):e190. doi: 10.2196/jmir.6631