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Development and Feasibility Testing of an mHealth (Text Message and WeChat) Intervention to Improve the Medication Adherence and Quality of Life of People Living with HIV in China: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

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      Most people living with HIV (PLWH) reside in middle- and low-income countries with limited access to health services. Thus, cost-effective interventions that can reach a large number of PLWH are urgently needed.


      The objective of our study was to assess the feasibility and acceptability of an mHealth intervention among PLWH in China.


      Based on previous formative research, we designed an mHealth intervention program that included sending weekly reminders to participants via text messages (short message service, SMS) and articles on HIV self-management three times a week via a popular social media app WeChat. A total of 62 PLWH recruited from an HIV outpatient clinic were randomly assigned to intervention or control group. The intervention lasted for 3 months, and all participants were assessed for their medication adherence, presence of depression, quality of life (QoL), and CD4 (cluster of differentiation 4) counts. Upon completing the intervention, we interviewed 31 participants to further assess the feasibility and acceptability of the study.


      At baseline, the intervention and control groups did not differ in terms of demographic characteristics or any of the major outcome measures. About 85% (53/62) of the participants completed the intervention, and they provided valuable feedback on the design and content of the intervention. Participants preferred WeChat as the platform for receiving information and interactive communication for ease of access. Furthermore, they made specific recommendations about building trust, interactive features, and personalized feedback. In the follow-up assessment, the intervention and control groups did not differ in terms of major outcome measures.


      This pilot study represents one of the first efforts to develop a text messaging (SMS)- and WeChat-based intervention that focused on improving the medication adherence and QoL of PLWH in China. Our data indicates that an mHealth intervention is feasible and acceptable to this population. The data collected through this pilot study will inform the future designs and implementations of mHealth interventions in this vulnerable population. We recommend more innovative mHealth interventions with rigorous designs for the PLWH in middle- and low-income countries.

      Trial Registration

      Chinese Clinical Trial Registry ChiCTR1800017987; (Archived by WebCite at

      Registered Report Ientifier


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      Most cited references 27

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      Effects of a mobile phone short message service on antiretroviral treatment adherence in Kenya (WelTel Kenya1): a randomised trial.

      Mobile (cell) phone communication has been suggested as a method to improve delivery of health services. However, data on the effects of mobile health technology on patient outcomes in resource-limited settings are limited. We aimed to assess whether mobile phone communication between health-care workers and patients starting antiretroviral therapy in Kenya improved drug adherence and suppression of plasma HIV-1 RNA load. WelTel Kenya1 was a multisite randomised clinical trial of HIV-infected adults initiating antiretroviral therapy (ART) in three clinics in Kenya. Patients were randomised (1:1) by simple randomisation with a random number generating program to a mobile phone short message service (SMS) intervention or standard care. Patients in the intervention group received weekly SMS messages from a clinic nurse and were required to respond within 48 h. Randomisation, laboratory assays, and analyses were done by investigators masked to treatment allocation; however, study participants and clinic staff were not masked to treatment. Primary outcomes were self-reported ART adherence (>95% of prescribed doses in the past 30 days at both 6 and 12 month follow-up visits) and plasma HIV-1 viral RNA load suppression (<400 copies per mL) at 12 months. The primary analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered with, NCT00830622. Between May, 2007, and October, 2008, we randomly assigned 538 participants to the SMS intervention (n=273) or to standard care (n=265). Adherence to ART was reported in 168 of 273 patients receiving the SMS intervention compared with 132 of 265 in the control group (relative risk [RR] for non-adherence 0·81, 95% CI 0·69-0·94; p=0·006). Suppressed viral loads were reported in 156 of 273 patients in the SMS group and 128 of 265 in the control group, (RR for virologic failure 0·84, 95% CI 0·71-0·99; p=0·04). The number needed to treat (NNT) to achieve greater than 95% adherence was nine (95% CI 5·0-29·5) and the NNT to achieve viral load suppression was 11 (5·8-227·3). Patients who received SMS support had significantly improved ART adherence and rates of viral suppression compared with the control individuals. Mobile phones might be effective tools to improve patient outcome in resource-limited settings. US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Copyright © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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        Mobile phone technologies improve adherence to antiretroviral treatment in a resource-limited setting: a randomized controlled trial of text message reminders.

        There is limited evidence on whether growing mobile phone availability in sub-Saharan Africa can be used to promote high adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART). This study tested the efficacy of short message service (SMS) reminders on adherence to ART among patients attending a rural clinic in Kenya. A randomized controlled trial of four SMS reminder interventions with 48 weeks of follow-up. Four hundred and thirty-one adult patients who had initiated ART within 3 months were enrolled and randomly assigned to a control group or one of the four intervention groups. Participants in the intervention groups received SMS reminders that were either short or long and sent at a daily or weekly frequency. Adherence was measured using the medication event monitoring system. The primary outcome was whether adherence exceeded 90% during each 12-week period of analysis and the 48-week study period. The secondary outcome was whether there were treatment interruptions lasting at least 48 h. In intention-to-treat analysis, 53% of participants receiving weekly SMS reminders achieved adherence of at least 90% during the 48 weeks of the study, compared with 40% of participants in the control group (P = 0.03). Participants in groups receiving weekly reminders were also significantly less likely to experience treatment interruptions exceeding 48 h during the 48-week follow-up period than participants in the control group (81 vs. 90%, P = 0.03). These results suggest that SMS reminders may be an important tool to achieve optimal treatment response in resource-limited settings.
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          An information-motivation-behavioral skills model of adherence to antiretroviral therapy.

          HIV-positive persons who do not maintain consistently high levels of adherence to often complex and toxic highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) regimens may experience therapeutic failure and deterioration of health status and may develop multidrug-resistant HIV that can be transmitted to uninfected others. The current analysis conceptualizes social and psychological determinants of adherence to HAART among HIV-positive individuals. The authors propose an information-motivation-behavioral skills (IMB) model of HAART adherence that assumes that adherence-related information, motivation, and behavioral skills are fundamental determinants of adherence to HAART. According to the model, adherence-related information and motivation work through adherence-related behavioral skills to affect adherence to HAART. Empirical support for the IMB model of adherence is presented, and its application in adherence-promotion intervention efforts is discussed.

            Author and article information

            1 Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology School of Public Health Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou China
            2 Sun Yat-sen Center for Migrant Health Policy Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou China
            3 Sun Yat-sen Global Health Institute Institute of State Governance Sun Yat-sen University Guangzhou China
            4 Department of Health Promotion and Community Health Sciences School of Public Health Texas A&M University College Station, TX United States
            5 Department of Infectious Disease Eighth People's Hospital Guangzhou China
            Author notes
            Corresponding Author: Y Alicia Hong yhong@
            , ORCID:
            JMIR Mhealth Uhealth
            JMIR Mhealth Uhealth
            JMIR mHealth and uHealth
            JMIR Publications (Toronto, Canada )
            September 2018
            04 September 2018
            : 6
            : 9
            30181109 6231726 v6i9e10274 10.2196/10274
            (Reviewer), (Reviewer),
            ©Yan Guo, Zhimeng Xu, Jiaying Qiao, Y Alicia Hong, Hanxi Zhang, Chengbo Zeng, Weiping Cai, Linghua Li, Cong Liu. Originally published in JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth (, 04.09.2018.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR mhealth and uhealth, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on well as this copyright and license information must be included.

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