A TB app is being developed locally as part of a new National Institute of Health (NIH) programme to spur innovation in mobile communication technologies and software applications used in biomedical research in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Researchers at the Aurum Institute in South Africa plan to improve TB diagnosis methods by designing an app that relays sputum tests from labs to health workers via a mobile device, as well as personalised text messages informing patients of their results.

TB control in South Africa is currently hampered by patients failing to follow up with treatment following diagnosis and the current paper-based system of recording TB data for health authorities. If successful, the new app will address this gap by speeding up communication between labs, health workers and patients.

South Africa, along with Kenya, Malaysia, Mali, Nigeria, Romania and Vietnam will be provided a total funding of almost $2.5 million from Fogarty over the two years to spearhead the new mHealth initiatives. The new NIH programme hopes to support the development of groundbreaking mobile devices and apps focused on a wide range of public health concerns, including TB, HIV/AIDS, child injury prevention, malaria and improving training for community health workers.

“NIH and Fogarty have had a longstanding interest in the potential of cellphones, smartphones and mobile apps as powerful health intervention tools,” said Fogarty Director Dr. Roger I. Glass. “These new mHealth awards will enhance efforts of researchers and clinicians in low-resource settings, while yielding crucial data on implementation, scale-up, and what works and what doesn’t.”

Fogarty’s mHealth programme aims to contribute to the evidence base for the use of mobile technology to improve clinical outcomes and public health while building research capacity in LMICs and establishing mHealth research networks. The programme promotes research on the use of mobile and wireless devices – such as cellphones, smartphones and tablets – to improve health outcomes, health care services and health research.

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