Sub-Saharan economies have been affected in a major way by the HIV / AIDS pandemic. With an average of less than 10 doctors in 100,000 people and 14 countries without a radiologist, Sub – Saharan Africa was and continues to be far from adequately equipped to mitigate this scourge.ᵃ A number of programs promoting early detection and interventions have since been implemented across the region. Anti – retroviral therapy has also been widely adopted in both public and private institutions as the primary method of managing the condition. Strides have definitely been made in reducing the stigma and fear that used to be associated with the disease. People are more forthcoming to testing and treatment as well. It is thus an unfortunate state of affairs that in as much as awareness and acceptance of HIV / AIDS in communities is improving, what often lets patients down is the shortage of health personnel and medication. The economic implications of comprehensive treatment for HIV / AIDS place a huge burden, which most governments are just unable to meet. The resultant vacuum is an area in which telemedicine could be a cost effective solution.
The first challenge first by AIDS patients has to do with their care situation at home. As medical infrastructure is usually stretched and oft inadequate, most patients are discharged as ‘Home – Based Care patients.’ Community caregivers as well as family members are then tasked with the upkeep of the patients. While this model has improved the quality of life of many individuals suffering from the terminal condition, there are some practical challenges that beset it. In most rural households, people depend on primary industry for their upkeep and welfare. These include, but are not limited to farming and artisanal mining. Such economic activities mean long working hours as well as arduous tasks. Resultantly, a trade off becomes evident; stay at home to take care of the sick while forsaking any kind of income or subsistence or committing to making a living, to the detriment of the person living with HIV / AIDS. While this is a horrible situation to find oneself, it is a reality for most communities. Introducing telemedicine to such communities can help ease this disagreeable situation. Patients can personally connect with practitioners to receive helpful information about their dosages and opportunistic conditions among other things. The technology also brings a certain dignity to patients as they are able to have some level of autonomy in terms of their health. Home care monitoring help the patient to keep track of their drug intake, vital signs and other aspects of recovery, without needing a third party to assist.
As already alluded to, the quality of life that an HIV positive individual will enjoy is largely influenced by the management of the disease. A multi – pronged approach that includes good nutrition, consistent and quality medical care as well as a positive attitude are just part of that approach. Consistent medical attention then means visiting the local clinic and doctor for routine CD4 count tests, blood pressure, glucose levels and such. This increased need for check-ups can become quite costly for many patients. However, using telemedicine it is possible to connect with doctors as well as the clinic / hospital for a number of consultations. Using Store and Forward channels, a home – based patient can forward video, picture and / or text describing specific conditions he / she is facing. Real time consulting can also be utilized in instances where the physician wants to assess the patient’s health through video observation. Whichever method used, using telemedicine would effectively decrease the medical costs to the patient.
Telemedicine has been proven to decrease costs of consulting with doctors for patients. Studies have shown that the average estimated cost of a telehealth visit ranges from $40-50 dollars while an in-person visit can cost as much as $176 dollarsᵇ. The importance of this innovation in combating the HIV / AIDS virus cannot be overemphasized, given the progressive care that patients require. In Sub – Saharan Africa this need is even higher, given the prevalence of the disease. Med-eSmart is looking to pioneer this technology in the region, with our crowdfunding campaign kicking off on the 15th of July. Please find us on Twitter and Facebook and show your support today.
ᵃWorld Health Organization, WHO advisory meeting on radiology education, Geneva, 1999.