Using mHealth to improve tuberculosis case identification and treatment initiation in South Africa: Results from a pilot study

Post Date: 
PLoS One


Tuberculosis (TB) incidence in South Africa is among the highest globally. Initial loss to follow-up (ILFU), defined as not starting on TB treatment within 28 days of testing positive, is undermining control efforts. We assessed the feasibility, acceptability, and potential of a mHealth application to reduce ILFU.


An mHealth application was developed to capture patients TB investigation data, provide results and monitor treatment initiation. This was implemented in two primary health clinics (PHC) in inner-city Johannesburg. Feasibility was assessed by comparing documentation of personal details, specimen results for same individuals during implementation period (paper register and Mhealth application). Effectiveness was assessed by comparing proportion of patients with results within 48 hours, and proportion started on treatment within 28 days of testing TB positive during pre- implementation (paper register) and implementation (mHealth application) periods. In-depth interviews with patients and providers were conducted to assess acceptability of application.


Pre-implementation, 457 patients were recorded in paper registers [195 (42.7%) male, median age 34 years (interquartile range IQR (28-40), 45 (10.5%) sputum Xpert positive]. During implementation, 319 patients were recorded in paper register and the mHealth application [131 (41.1%) male, median age 32 years (IQR 27-38), 33 (10.3%) sputum Xpert positive]. The proportion with complete personal details: [mHealth 95.0% versus paper register 94.0%, (p = 0.54)] and proportion with documented results: [mHealth 97.4% versus paper register 97.8%, (p = 0.79)] were not different in the two methods. The proportion of results available within 48 hours: [mHealth 96.8% versus paper register 68.6%), (p <0.001)], and the proportion on treatment within 28 days [mHealth 28/33 (84.8%) versus paper register 30/44 (68.2%), (p = 0.08)] increased during implementation but was not statistically significant. In-depth interviews showed that providers easily integrated the mHealth application into routine TB investigation and patients positively received the delivery of results via text message. Time from sputum collection to TB treatment initiation decreased from 4 days (pre-implementation) to 3 days but was not statistically significant.


We demonstrated that implementation of the mHealth application was feasible, acceptable to health care providers and patients, and has potential to reduce the time to TB treatment initiation and ILFU in PHC settings.

Maraba N, Hoffmann CJ, Chihota VN, Chang LW, Ismail N, Candy S, Madibogo E, Katzwinkel M, Churchyard GJ, McCarthy K. Using mHealth to improve tuberculosis case identification and treatment initiation in South Africa: Results from a pilot study. PLoS One. 2018 Jul 3;13(7):e0199687. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0199687. eCollection 2018. PMID: 29969486; PMCID: PMC6029757.

  • The Aurum Institute, Johannesburg, South Africa

  • School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

  • National Institute of Communicable Disease, Johannesburg, South Africa

  • Department of Health and Social Development, City of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

  • Mobenzi, Cape Town, South Africa

  • Advancing Treatment and Care for TB and HIV, South African Medical Research Council Collaborating Center for HIV/TB, Johannesburg, South Africa

  • London School of Tropical and Hygiene Medicine, London, United Kingdom