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Cell Phone Availability and Usage for mHealth and Intervention Delivery to Persons Living With HIV in a Low-Resource Setting: Cross-sectional Study

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HIV/AIDS is now a manageable chronic illness owing to effective antiretroviral therapy (ART), which involves routine follow-up care, including regular physical visits to the clinic. In the recent past, and in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increased need for virtual care and intervention delivery, a modality known as mobile health (mHealth), which includes cell phone-delivered services for medical and public health practice.


Here we describe cell phone use and its relationship with alcohol use in a cohort of persons living with HIV and latent tuberculosis (TB).


We performed a cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from a cohort of persons living with HIV and latent TB in HIV care in southwestern Uganda. We estimated proportions of cell phone and text message use and evaluated their associations with alcohol use-a common modifiable behavior among persons living with HIV. Cell phone use (primary outcome) was defined as owning a cell phone that is turned on at least half of the day. Any alcohol use was defined as any self-reported alcohol use in the prior 3 months or a phosphatidylethanol (an alcohol biomarker) level of ≥8 ng/mL.


A total of 300 participants (median age 40 years; n=146, 48.7% male) were included in the analysis. Most (n=267, 89.0%) participants had access to a phone and of them, 26 (9.7%) shared the phone with someone else. In total, 262/300 (87.3%) of participants owned a cell phone that is turned on at least half of the time; the majority (n=269, 89.7%) rarely or never sent text messages, and over two-thirds (n=200, 66.9%) rarely or never received text messages. Most (n=214, 71.3%) had any alcohol use in the prior 3 months. In adjusted analyses, any alcohol use was not significantly associated with cell phone use (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 0.48, 95% CI 0.18-1.25; P=.13) or sending (aOR 0.82, 95% CI 0.28-2.37; P=.71) or receiving (aOR 1.31, 95% CI 0.70-2.47; P=.40) text messages.


There is hope that mHealth interventions in this population can be carried out using cell phones owing to their popularity; however, the interventions may need to employ methods that do not rely on the sending and receiving of text messages only.

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