Geneva – The KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation and Unitaid signed a US$ 13.9 million grant agreement on Tuesday to increase the use of smart pillboxes and mobile technology, aiming to help patients adhere to their medicines and raise the world’s plateauing cure rates for TB.
“This project takes a familiar device, the mobile phone, and turns it into an innovative disease-fighting tool,” Unitaid Executive Director Lelio Marmora said. “So many more people will be able to adhere to the long treatment and return to good health with the support of this technology.”
The ASCENT project, starting this month and running through 2022, will pilot three types of devices and create a global market and implementation plan for them. The devices are:
- pillboxes that send a message to a monitoring clinic every time the patient opens it up to take their medicine.
- a video application that helps patients film themselves taking their medicine, and then sends the video to the clinic.
- an application that helps patients send an SMS to the clinic every time they take their dose.
The project will be implemented in five countries: Ethiopia, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania and Ukraine. KNCV will work with partners The Aurum Institute, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and PATH.
One of the difficulties in curing tuberculosis is the long treatment. Patients have to take medicines anywhere from six months to two years. After a few months of treatment, many patients feel better and stop taking their medicine. As a result, the illness returns, and the bacteria gets an opportunity to develop resistance to the tuberculosis drugs.
“KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation is excited and honored to lead the Unitaid-funded ASCENT project,” said Kitty van Weezenbeek, executive director of KNCV. “We look forward to working with national TB programs, patient representatives and our consortium partners to bring digital adherence technology to scale.”
Unitaid is investing in a host of new TB interventions, including:
- new drug formulations for children who have multidrug-resistant TB
- diagnosis through gene sequencing, a new technology that can analyze the genes of a patient’s particular tuberculosis bacteria and determine which drugs will work the best against it.
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