Research project launched into telemedicine and HIV/Aids management in South Africa

30th May 2024 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Research project launched into telemedicine and HIV/Aids management in South Africa

A pharmacist dispensing HIV/Aids medication
Photo by: Reuters

How effective is telemedicine as a differentiated service delivery model for the prevention of HIV/Aids in South Africa? This is the question to be addressed by a PhD researcher at Stellenbosch University’s Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management, Rudi de Koker.

“Globally, there is a goal of ‘ending’ HIV/Aids by 2030,” he points out to Engineering News. “This will need the use of different service delivery models. One of these could be telemedicine. Frankly, our expectation is that telemedicine will indeed be valuable, but could it do more? How big a role could it, should it, play?”

Telemedicine – virtual consultations – has only been formalised in South Africa in recent years, having only been authorised by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) as an extraordinary measure required to address the Covid-19 pandemic. Officially, in South Africa, telemedicine is still only a temporary emergency measure.

Even under the impact of Covid, the HPCSA only authorised telemedicine for use in situations in which there was already an existing relationship between the patient and the healthcare provider. “Other than this, no single framework exists for the use of telemedicine in South Africa,” he notes. “If this research shows telemedicine is effective in this country, then we have the basis to justify the development of a national telemedicine framework, including a White Paper.”

Given that he is also project manager at Digital Health Cape Town (DHCT), De Koker’s interest in the topic is unsurprising. DHCT has developed and manages the HIV Clinicians Expert Telemedicine Platform, which is the largest HIV telemedicine platform in South Africa, covering the entire country (and not just Cape Town). Currently, the platform embraces 397 active trained pharmacists and 88 active trained nurses.

“The key research point, with regard to South Africa, is the use of telemedicine for virtual consultations to create access to treatment,” he stresses. “Also, because of the disparity between urban and rural areas in South Africa, I’d like to see how telemedicine can be utilised to link health seekers in rural areas closer to healthcare services. That’s my personal ambition.”

The research project should be completed by the end of 2026.