BLOG: The role of Civil Society in the development of health technology to eliminate viral hepatitis

28 Sep 2018 Chris Wingrove

Currently, out of 71 million people living with hepatitis C, only 20% know they are ill. That’s 57 million men, women and children at risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer. Given there’s a cure for this condition, it is imperative we “find the missing millions”. World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) is calling for a scale-up of diagnosis to find those affected by viral hepatitis and link them to care. Technology can be an effective weapon to increase access to testing and treatment.

When technology is tailored to the end user it has a greater impact. Nowhere is this more apparent than in health technology. Key to the success of any health innovation is patient involvement in its development to establish the needs of the patient group. WHA members across the world are leading the way by collaborating with private sector partners to develop innovative solutions to eliminate hepatitis.

Recently, WHA members in Pakistan ‘The Health Foundation’ and the ‘Gujranwala Liver Foundation' have been working with Mastercard on a pilot scheme to treat hepatitis C patients. The project tailors the ‘Mastercard Aid' technology to the local environment, delivering impact in this field.

  

Technology and innovation allow us to connect and bring communities together, and that’s crucial when you are looking to enhance the patient journey. Telemedicine, such as 'Project Echo', is now being widely used globally to train health care professionals and raise awareness of hepatitis. Aside from democratising knowledge, software is currently being rolled out in a number of countries for use in different settings, including prisons, hospitals and primary care centres to remind doctors to test for hepatitis C should other results indicate they are at risk.

In Pakistan, the Medical Research Council is using SMS text message to increase awareness and link people to testing facilities. Through their system, a text message is sent regarding the risk factors and recipients are asked to reply with '1' if they have experienced any of these or '2' for they haven't. If the message reply is 'yes' the mobile company will send them another message with details of a nearby health centre for testing. This message will include the name, address and phone number of the facility. On receiving the message a reasonable amount of money will be transferred to the user’s mobile account to ensure they are able to attend their testing. 

In India, WHA member ‘Chennai Liver Foundation’ is developing an app to educate doctors on viral hepatitis. In Australia, WHA member, 'Hepatitis Victoria' has launched an app that helps patients manage their illness by enabling them to record their results, manage medications and appointments and find out the latest health information and in the US, St Joseph’s Medical Centre now uses multi-lingual touch-screen kiosks, separate from the patient waiting-area to screen patients. These Kiosks help overcome people’s embarrassment and reluctance to discuss drug use and sexual history with a medical professional.

There are many more examples of technology being used around the world and as more innovative solutions get developed, the needs of the end user have to be at the centre of the technology. Developers need to utilise the knowledge and experience of civil society to work with affected communities to develop technology that has impact and help us eliminate hepatitis C.