Three NGOs Fighting Tuberculosis with Mobile Tech
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Tuberculosis kills over a million people each year, mostly in developing countries, where poor public health systems hamper efforts to diagnose and treat it. But NGOs are now embracing new mobile health technologies that could help fight the disease more efficiently and cost-effectively.
As one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases, TB presents a massive public health challenge. Due to the high costs of fighting it in places with weak institutions and infrastructure, the WHO reports a $2 billion annual funding shortfall for TB prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. And as the disease festers in densely populated cities and remote areas, new antibiotic-resistant strains are gaining strength. It’s not implausible that one of these strains could morph into a superbug that causes the next big global pandemic.
To be sure, extensive work by The Global Fund, the World Health Organization, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other large organizations are making a big difference. Worldwide incidence of TB declined at a rate of 1.5% each year between 2000 and 2013, according to the WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Report in 2014.
Yet further progress will require expensive efforts in low-resource settings where administering drugs and monitoring compliance can be a logistical nightmare. Most normal cases of TB require patients to take six months of antibiotics on a daily basis. Adherence to this regimen will usually cure the patient, but missing doses or failing to complete the regimen exposes the patient to treatment failure. It also allows TB bacteria in their bodies to develop into multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), which is substantially more difficult and costly to treat.
To work around this challenge, many budget-strapped NGOs have turned to mobile tech for health worker education, field management, data collection, patient tracking, and improved diagnostics. Here are three NGOs using hardware and software platforms to lower costs and improve outcomes in TB prevention.