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Pilot Project Tests Cell Phones in TB Fight

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The cell phone is joining the arsenal of technology used to keep folks healthy.

A student-led group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has developed a way to use cell phones to let tuberculosis patients report their adherence to the drug regimen they must take. If the tests show patients are following doctor's orders to take all their medication, they get rewarded with free cell phone minutes, the Associated Press reports.

Under the MIT pilot plan, patients test their urine using a strip that reveals a numeric code if it detects TB medicines, which are usually taken for six months. They then text-message the code to their health care provider and get credit toward incentives such as free minutes.

The in-home tests also eliminate the need for health care workers to make several patient-monitoring visits a week, a routine that is often impractical in remote places, said Jose Gomez-Marquez, one of the project's leaders.

Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of a World Health Organization program to fight TB, called the MIT idea "creative." But he told the AP personal visits must continue because systems that depend on patient self-reporting have often failed in the developing world.

In 2006, the most recent year statistics are available, 9.2 million people worldwide were diagnosed with tuberculosis, and 1.7 million died, according to AP. The WHO estimates that up to 10 percent of TB deaths are patients who stop taking medication properly.

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