Published byAnnette Gerritsen
Published on4 March 2018
An HIV-free future is possible and global statistics indicate that antiretroviral therapy (ART) is working and working well. Yet antiretroviral medication (ARVs) simply cannot help if they are not taken properly. This is why MyTherapy is an important smartphone app to use for those living with HIV.
Although HIV is no longer a death sentence thanks to continuous research and effective medication in the form of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), the incidence and prevalence of this virus still remains a complex and oftentimes overwhelming challenge in Africa. Recent statistics from Avert indicate that in East and Southern Africa alone, there are at least 19.4 million people living with HIV. Furthermore, it is estimated that only 61% of adults and 51% of children are on antiretroviral therapy (ART). While 61% may seem relatively high, especially within an African context where access to adequate healthcare is often greatly limited, this figure needs to increase drastically should we wish to work towards an HIV-free future.
Antiretroviral therapy, which is taken orally in the form of a combination of tablets, remains the best solution when it comes to both reducing the risk of HIV transmission and managing the virus effectively. ARVs are wonder drugs that suppress the virus, meaning that the virus is unable to replicate and make copies of itself. If taken properly and correctly, ARVs help HIV-positive persons achieve an undetectable viral load, meaning that the virus exists in such small quantities in the blood that it does not affect the person’s health. This also helps in greatly lowering transmission rates.
It is therefore clear that until there is another breakthrough in the quest for a cure, ARVs have the potential to create an HIV-free future or at least, for now, greatly reduce the incidence and prevalence of the disease. Of course, Africa faces many challenges when it comes to providing free and accessible healthcare to millions, but recent interventions and funding from international organisations and governments have meant that many HIV-positive people now have access to free and widely-available treatment.
However, all of this is for nothing if HIV medication is not taken every day and as exactly prescribed by a healthcare professional. It is absolutely crucial that people adhere to their ART strictly, otherwise the drugs have the potential to become ineffective and drug-resistance becomes a real possibility, meaning that a drug-resistant strain of HIV can be transmitted.
There are many reasons why patients stop adhering to or taking their ARVs, including the stigma associated with HIV, side-effects of the medication, or simply forgetting to take the medication. However, there are solutions to these non-adherence challenges, and one of them is the use of a medication reminder application for smartphones. In recent years, there has been a boom in the use of smartphones in Africa, and with increasing access to the internet, it is becoming easier for the population to access all the features that come with a smartphone.
MyTherapy is a medication and health tracker app that can be used by people infected and affected by HIV. The app, which is downloadable for free on both iOS and Android, is a useful and practical tool that encourages and helps its users to take their medication responsibly. The main aim of the app is to promote adherence by consistently reminding users to take their medication until they have done so, but it also comes with a variety of useful features, such as a measurements and symptom tracker, where users can monitor how they are feeling and responding to their treatment. Furthermore, the app also has a lab-values feature which can help HIV-positive patients track their viral load, CD4 count, and kidney functioning.
Although it is a seemingly simple concept, an app that reminds HIV-positive patients (or even those on pre- or post-prophylaxis) to take their medication every day, on time, is an extremely important tool that can greatly help in the fight against HIV. Taking ART means taking ARVs at different times during the day, which can be difficult to manage. MyTherapy allows its users to set different times easily (and even set different times on the weekends) so that taking their medication on time fits into their daily lifestyle or work regimens. Furthermore, the MyTherapy app is very simple to use and is completely free, meaning that users do not have to pay for anything. Users can also invite their family and friends on the app so that they too may monitor the users’ progress. At the end of the month, the app generates a report from the users’ data that can be given to a healthcare professional who can then see how the patient is progressing.
Lastly, the app has an option whereby the user can choose ‘generic notifications’. This means that when a pop-up appears on the screen reminding the user to take his/her medication, the name of the medication won’t be mentioned in the pop-up. Furthermore, users can use a special passcode of their choice. This is similar to a lock-screen function where one needs to enter a passcode in order to access the app. This adds an extra layer of privacy – something MyTherapy takes seriously.
Overall, medication adherence, especially regarding managing and controlling HIV, is an extremely important issue that needs to be addressed. Those living with HIV need to be made aware of the risks of non-adherence and use all the necessary resources available to them, such as the MyTherapy app, to help them remain healthy and live longer, productive lives.
HIV and AIDS claimed fewer lives in 2015 that at any point in the last 20 years and fewer people became infected with the virus than in any year since 1991. This means that ARV medication is working and working well. And as long as it is taken properly, then Africa should continue to see a reduction in the virus’ incidence and prevalence rates.