Recent Princeton graduate Katy Digovich has been awarded a Compton Mentor Fellowship to establish a program that would enable HIV/AIDS patients in Botswana to receive text message reminders to take their medicine, aiming to solve a common problem in a country deeply afflicted by the virus.
Digovich spent last summer in Botswana gathering data for her senior thesis on HIV/AIDS treatment, and her on-the-ground observations helped her earn the $35,000 award, which is sponsored by the Compton Foundation of Redwood City, Calif.
In Botswana, which has the world's second-highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS, the government provides antiretroviral drugs -- which inhibit the replication of HIV -- through a partnership with Merck & Co. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, so price is not a concern for patients. Digovich's thesis on patients' adherence to these drugs found that forgetfulness was the biggest factor in patients not taking their medicine.
In her travels, she saw something that could help them remember: cell phones.
"I couldn't help noticing how many people had cell phones," said Digovich, a member of the class of 2008 from Palo Alto, Calif., who majored in . "Even in rural villages, you'd see a woman walking along with a child on her back, fruit on her head, talking on a cell phone."
Digovich will use the fellowship to implement a cell phone text message system to remind patients to take their pills, refill prescriptions and go to doctor appointments. The grant will allow Digovich to work with chemist Harriet Okatch of the University of Botswana and fund a six-month study of the cell phone system with 250 patients. If the program is successful, Digovich will work with government officials to establish it as a national program. In the country of 1.8 million people, cell phone companies report having 1 million cell phone users, so accessibility to phones should not be a barrier, Digovich said.
(2006)The transmission of HIV/AIDS in heterosexual marital relationships in Zambian rural communities and HIV/AIDS : a case study of Petauke District. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.
IFM Thesis on HIV/AIDS & Poverty iii
Over the last thirty something years the information that is available to the general public is huge. AIDS is publicly recognized in marches and parades, movies have been made and children are taught about the disease in school. Still yet there is a stigma attached. The discrimination against HIV/AIDS infected individuals extends all over the world, in all countries. In Africa they will even kick the infected out of the villages they have always lived in, therefore, they become known as outcast. Children and babies that are infected with the disease in under developed countries are put into orphanages that only allow sick children. Then left with no one but the healthcare workers. In some instances these children never receive the love and attention that children need to develop. Again leaving them alone and attached to the stigma that no one would want them.