Importance: The rapid uptake of mobile phones in low and middle-income countries over the past decade has provided public health programs unprecedented access to patients. While programs have used text messages to improve medication adherence, there have been no high-powered trials evaluating their impact on tuberculosis treatment outcomes.
Objective: To measure the impact of Zindagi SMS, a two-way SMS reminder system, on treatment success of people with drug-sensitive tuberculosis.
Design: We conducted a two-arm, parallel design, effectiveness randomized controlled trial in Karachi, Pakistan. Individual participants were randomized to either Zindagi SMS or the control group. Zindagi SMS sent daily SMS reminders to participants and asked them to respond through SMS or missed (unbilled) calls after taking their medication. Non-respondents were sent up to three reminders a day.
Setting: Public and private sector tuberculosis clinics in Karachi, Pakistan.
Participants: Newly-diagnosed patients with smear or bacteriologically positive pulmonary tuberculosis who were on treatment for less than two weeks; 15 years of age or older; reported having access to a mobile phone; and intended to live in Karachi throughout treatment were eligible to participate. We enrolled 2,207 participants, with 1,110 randomized to Zindagi SMS and 1,097 to the control group.
Main outcome: The primary outcome was clinically recorded treatment success based upon intention-to-treat.
Results: We found no significant difference between the Zindagi SMS or control groups for treatment success (719 or 83% vs. 903 or 83%, respectively, p = 0·782). There was no significant program effect on self-reported medication adherence reported during unannounced visits during treatment.
Conclusion: In this large-scale randomized controlled effectiveness trial of SMS medication reminders for tuberculosis treatment, we found no significant impact.
Trial registration: The trial was registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, NCT01690754.