Using digital tools to track TB cases in India—by the millions

March 19, 2019 by Anil Cherukupalli

A connected system improves tuberculosis patient outcomes while providing essential data to planners

Mobile application for AES

Mobile apps are increasingly used—in India and beyond—to coordinate care and manage treatment of illnesses. Photo: PATH/Mansi Midha.

Text message reminders. Connected patient databases. Custom apps. In India, a cutting-edge tuberculosis (TB) treatment program is using the latest digital tools to deliver better health care for urban populations at risk.

TB is highly infectious, which is especially problematic in crowded slums like those in Mumbai, India. PATH’s program, known as the Private Provider Interface Agency, uses the power of data to connect the public and private health care sectors—and stop the spread of TB.

The program gives TB patients in the private sector access to free public-sector medicines and state-of-the-art diagnostic services. By incorporating previously “invisible” TB patients from the private sector into its program, the government of India aims to eliminate TB by 2025.

Here’s how it works: Patient referrals and subsidies are implemented through e-vouchers that guarantee payment to private providers and pharmacies. A call center connected to a centralized database runs the voucher mechanism and supports patients to complete the full course of treatment. Patients receive regular text messages and phone calls to ensure adherence. Drug refills are tracked to ensure compliance. Doctors and pharmacists are trained on the voucher system. Field workers provide additional personalized outreach, motivating patients to finish the long and difficult treatment regimen.

Behind it all, decisions based on real-time data promote seamless program operation and improved patient outcomes.

Backed by a sophisticated network of digital tools, this patient-centered approach has resulted in more than 60,000 TB cases diagnosed in Mumbai, more than 7,000 TB patients screened for coinfection with HIV, and a treatment success rate above eighty percent. Based on this success, a version of the program called JEET (Joint Effort to Eliminate Tuberculosis) is currently being rolled out broadly across India, and is projected to impact 3.5 million people across 22 states and 400 cities in the next two years.

India now has a clear path forward to find and treat the estimated 1 million undiagnosed cases of TB in the country. Using technology to link health sectors, the country is saving lives every day.