How health apps can make sure more young people get screened for TB

We live in a world where many people do everything on their cellphones, using apps: banking, social media, entertainment, netflix, uber … the list goes on.

So it only makes sense for our healthcare to also come through an app.  

This is exactly what some developers have done — created digital health apps that enhance TB screening and help link people to care by making services more accessible and efficient.

Currently there are several apps on the market: iSHOUT! and Chomi for example are apps that empower clients with information and service delivery entry points.

The developers spoke about their technology at the 8th SA TB Conference, hosted in Durban at the beginning of June.

Paul Potsane, Head of Programs at Shout It Now, told participants in the session that there was a critical need to integrate digital health apps into TB screening for young people.

Giving young people the means to communicate with and educate their peers has proven to be effective in increasing their participation in TB screening programs. As a  peer-to-peer approach, it fosters a supportive environment, encouraging more young people to engage in TB prevention and care.

TB remains South Africa’s biggest disease killer, taking the lives of 54 000 in 2023, according to the World Health Organisation.

While interventions currently  often prioritise adults, they fail to reach young people.

As a result young people between the ages of 10 and 24 remain an underserved group in TB care. In 2019, there were more than 160 000 young people affected by TB globally.  

This leaves the cohort without the necessary resources and attention. This gap in healthcare services for adolescents was a central theme in Potsane’s presentation.

Several factors contribute to the high TB burden among adolescents. One major issue is the delayed identification of TB in young people. This exacerbates the spread and severity of the disease. Stigma surrounding TB and HIV further complicates matters,resulted in young people ebing deterred from seeking timely medical help.

Potsane emphasised the pressing need for educational and motivational programs to overcome this barrier. Additionally, a lack of awareness about TB symptoms and risks leads to delayed diagnosis and treatment, worsening health outcomes. Increasing awareness and improving access to TB screening services are therefore critical to early detection and treatment.

Going forward, there are several things that can be done to change this.

Comprehensive education and awareness campaigns which specifically targetyoung people is essential. These campaigns can empower them with the knowledge and motivation that they need to seek timely medical help.

In addition, services need to be come more accessible through the use of digital health platforms that bridge the gap in TB screening services.

Finally, addressing stigma through youth-led initiatives can create a more supportive environment for those affected by TB and HIV.