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Open Access Use of interactive messaging to reduce pre-diagnosis loss to follow-up for TB care

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the uptake and usage of a WhatsApp-based interactive communication strategy to avert pre-diagnosis loss to follow-up (LTFU) from TB care in a high-incidence setting.

METHODS: We enrolled adults (≥18 years) who underwent routine sputum TB testing in two primary healthcare clinics in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa. The intervention consisted of structured WhatsApp-based reminders (prompts) sent prior to a routine clinic appointment scheduled 2–3 days after the diagnostic visit. Pre-diagnosis LTFU was defined as failure to return for the scheduled appointment and within 10 days.

RESULTS: We approached 332 adults with presumptive TB, of whom 103 (31%) were successfully enrolled; 213 (64%) did not own a WhatsApp-compatible phone. Of 103 participants, 74 (72%) actively responded to WhatsApp prompts; 69 (67%) opted to include a close contact in group communication to co-receive reminders. Pre-diagnosis LTFU was low overall (n = 7, 6.8%) and was not associated with failure to respond to WhatsApp prompts.

CONCLUSION: In this high-incidence setting, enrolment in a WhatsApp-based communication intervention among adults with presumptive TB was low, mainly due to low availability of WhatsApp-compatible phones. Among participants, we observed high message response rates and low LTFU, suggesting potential for interactive messaging services to support pre-diagnosis TB care.

Keywords: South Africa; WhatsApp; digital health tools; loss to follow-up; tuberculosis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa, DSI-NRF South African Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa 2: Desmond Tutu TB Centre, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Cape Town, South Africa

Publication date: January 1, 2022

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