Tracking Tuberculosis Treatment—a global health emergency
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tuberculosis is a global health emergency. Every year there are an estimated 9 to 10 million people who become infected with TB. Experts say our greatest risk for becoming infected is just breathing in the air around us, should that breathing take place in close, prolonged proximity to someone who has an active case of the disease. In fact, statistics suggest that each person infected with TB is likely to infect 10 to 15 other people, frequently members of their own family. That is certainly the case in countries like India where there are 2 million new cases of TB reported each year, and a quarter million deaths from the disease. And if you think this isn’t a problem for you because you live in a wealthier, more “developed” region of the world don’t be fooled. Immigration and global travel have made TB a serious health threat to everyone on the planet.
The good news is that TB is a highly treatable condition. Unfortunately, the medications used to treat TB only work when the patients who need them have access to medical care and are compliant with the treatment prescribed. Public health systems in countries like India are challenged both in getting medication to everyone who needs it, and in making sure those people who get medication continue to take it for the months and sometimes years that are required to cure them. Frankly, there is nothing worse that a partially treated patient with TB. The bacillus that causes the disease is prone to becoming resistant to commonly used drugs when patients aren’t compliant with treatment. That significantly raises the global health threat to all of us. WHO estimates there are 50 million people in the world with drug-resistant TB.
Researchers are well aware of these risks. One of those researchers is my Microsoft colleague, Bill Thies. Through his work at Microsoft Research, Bill partnered with Operation ASHA, the largest non-profit focusing on treatment and prevention of TB in India. He wanted to answer the question: can technology provide a tamperproof record of meetings between health workers and patients to help document medication compliance and provide a way to track and more aggressively reach out to patients who drop out of treatment?
They explored many technology solutions, and settled on a biometric attendance terminal that utilizes a fingerprint reader to ensure patients met with health workers. Patients scan their finger every time they take medication, and these logs are visualized in the central office to monitor medication delivery. Missed doses trigger an SMS notification to managers, who ensure timely supervision or counseling to the patients and health workers involved.
Bill has worked aggressively with Operation ASHA to make this technology accessible to patients and currently the terminal is used daily in over 40 treatment centers, spanning Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur. To date, the technology has enrolled about 2,700 patients and logged over 50,000 supervised doses.
Bill Thies’s research is just one example of how Microsoft is committed to using technology to help solve some of the world’s most pressing societal and health challenges. Microsoft Research collaborates with governments, NGO’s, and academic researchers around the world to develop innovative computing technologies and advance research in human health issues. You can learn more about Operation ASHA and how Bill Thies’s biometric attendance terminal is helping in the fight against the spread of TB in India and around the globe by watching this video.