Higher education and the corporate sector have joined forces using technological innovation to provide vital support needed for the government's national anti-retroviral roll-out plan.
Under the umbrella of a project called Cell-Life, engineers at UCT and the Cape Technikon have devised a software management system that uses cellphones and the Internet to provide critical communication, information and logistical support to monitor adherence of HIV-infected people to anti-retroviral treatment. This requires strict patient compliance to be successful.
The project, which has been successfully piloted in Gugulethu since September 2002, was recently given an additional R2-million boost from the Vodacom Foundation to promote further expansion.
It was formally launched at Welgelegen, lower campus, last week.
Project leader Dr Ulrike Rivett, of UCT's civil engineering department, believes the beauty of Cell-Life is that it can create a virtual infrastructure covering 90% of the country, using technology that is both accessible and acceptable to all South African communities.
She is in the process of persuading health departments to come on board.
The Vodacom Foundation, in turn, has challenged other cellular companies and corporates to support Cell-Life which, as a home-grown, not-for-profit system, could save the government millions.
Said Rivett: "For years, the focus around HIV/AIDS has been on finding the right treatment, cheaper drugs and making them available to HIV-infected people. Now we have realised that logistical and roll-out strategies are required. This means that skills not related to the medical field can contribute to develop more effective strategies."
She said it offered the opportunity for many people and companies to come on board.
"Collectively, we can have a massive, positive impact."
Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Martin Hall said UCT was very impressed with the results.
"Cell-Life is an excellent example of a project that brings together UCT's expertise in research with a defined social need, and sharing that knowledge with others."
Hall said the team representing UCT was an impressive group of staff and postgraduate students who have looked into the future of cellular communication and information technology.
"We need a lot more projects like this to bring higher education into closer alignment with the social and economic needs of our country."
The Hannan Crusaid Centre, the pilot site in Gugulethu, saw the number of patients rise from an initial 20 to more than 500 in 2004, while a second site in KwaZulu-Natal currently has 260 patients being monitored and is planning to increase this number by 100 patients per month.
The system offered by Cell-Life can also be used to monitor vital patient information for other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.
"Cell-Life will continue putting innovation to work to ultimately make a difference," said Rivett.
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