Although lockdown regulations implemented in response to Covid-19 have contributed to flattening the curve nationally, it has also resulted in decreased attendance in health facilities for conditions such as HIV and TB, with decreases seen in HIV and TB testing. As Professor Linda Gail Bekker of Desmond Tutu Foundation noted, the demand for their testing services decreasing to 10 people a day, from 40-50 people a day. Medication adherence is also being affected with almost 11,000 HIV and over 1,000 TB patients not collecting their medicine during the lockdown according to the provincial health department in Gauteng.
Digital health tools are coming to the fore as part of the Covid-19 response, with the National Department of Health innovating to extend and strengthen health services and improve access to information as seen with the adoption of the NDOH Covid-19 National Whatsapp support channel.
To address the challenge of accessing HIV counseling, The National HIV Think Tank (National Department of Health and The Foundation for Professional Development), Aviro Health and partners launch the HIV Engage digital counseling content for adults. The content is made more accessible by modernizing the counseling messaging in content as well as form with the introduction of brief and engaging videos, presented in 4 South African official languages: English, IsiZulu, SeSotho, and IsiXhosa. These animated videos provide information on HIV testing, transmission as well as dealing with the stigma of living with the virus. In addition, there is content on Anti-retroviral Treatment initiation in the case of a positive HIV test result. This includes introductory videos to treatment adherence and maintaining good health.
As part of the developmental process for the content, user-design workshops were held to gain a better understanding of the current HIV counseling landscape. This process involved public health experts, counselors, and end-users.
“There has been a long term need to rethink and innovate HIV counseling to make it more relevant to today’s health client. By using an empathetic approach, we used the real-world experiences of HIV patients and the needs of healthcare workers to create patient-centered messaging to understand HIV, the treatment of HIV and living with HIV. We are also challenged during this time to be innovative in supporting the health system, and counseling models are a crucial part of this. We spent a year developing HIV Engage, and we will continue to learn through feedback to grow the platform”, said Musaed Abrahams, Aviro Health CEO and HIV Engage Project lead.
The content on HIV Engage is shared through a depiction of the lives of various personas (based on true reflections) that create a sense of relatability, and a call to action on getting tested and starting treatment early. This approach received positive feedback from the users that engaged with the content during the iteration phase of the project and health care providers are encouraged to download all the content for use in their projects.
Using technology and innovative tools to achieve positive health outcomes drives the work of Aviro Health, which is what led the National HIV Think Tank to select this project as one of its innovation challenge winners.
The HIV Engage content is open source and can be accessed freely by visiting this website.