Two KwaZulu-Natal medical students have presented to the World Health Organisation, a cellphone application designed to help with ensuring patients take pills regularly, the University of KZN said on Sunday.
"They have designed an innovative approach using cellphone based technology to send automated alerts/reminders via text messages (SMS) to patients to take their medication on time."
"To date there has been no technological intervention that specifically addresses poor patient compliance to antimicrobials."
The students, Kapil Narain and Mohamed Hoosen Suleman, were selected as one of 10 finalists in an international competition. A total of 163 proposals from 40 countries had been submitted to the WHO and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The competition was looking for solutions to antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
This is the process whereby "as bacteria develop the ability to stop the drugs used to treat them, we risk reverting back to a time when simple infections might become untreatable", explained the university.
"By 2050, 10 million lives could be lost due to the growing worldwide threat of AMR."
One of the key causes of AMR in developing countries is patient non-compliance. This is when patient either forgets or deliberately do not take the pills needed, especially when symptoms of an illness seem to get better.
The consequence of this is that the bacteria then replicates, leading to a spread of resistance. As such the treatment then fails and the patients get sicker, or even die.
Narain and Suleman attended a workshop in Geneva, Switzerland where they could explore further refinements for their proposals and build the capacity to implement them.
The app that they developed would be adjusted according to the specific needs of each patient.
The students now plan to implement their innovation in low and middle income countries, focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Innovative, feasible and sustainable solutions with the mindset of 'think global, act local' are essential to combat AMR and prevent an era of superbugs in resource-limited settings such as Sub-Saharan Africa," said Narain, a fifth-year medical student.
"Meeting and engaging with leading experts in the field of Public Health was an exhilarating experience."
"It is imperative that we as the young scientific community engage with senior most experts to discuss innovative strategies," added Suleman, who already holds a pharmacy degree and is now a first year medical student.
- compiled Mirah Langer