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Mobile application provides support to tuberculosis patients in China

October 28, 2014

The 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health, to be held in Barcelona October 28‒November 2, will focus on community-driven solutions for the next generation.

This year, FHI 360’s Control and Prevention of Tuberculosis (CAP-TB) project launched 57 Zone, a mobile application offering support to TB patients through QQ, China’s popular instant messaging service that has nearly 830 million users.

57 Zone changes the paradigm for support and networking for patients and their communities. In Chinese, the number 57 is pronounced “wu qi” and sounds like “No giving up” and “I am healthy.” 57 Zone operates on the principle that all communication within the group is honest and motivates users to stay on treatment to recover good health. The group enables patients with TB and multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) to discuss common experiences with other patients and, just as importantly, to ask trained professionals questions to help comply with treatment.

In just a few months, 57 Zone has created a welcoming meeting place for over 200 TB and MDR-TB patients — and the number continues to rise. Careful planning and effective professional facilitation of group discussions are key ingredients to the application’s success. “We developed a weekly rotation for QQ managers and other TB counselors so that everyone knows when and who will take the initiative to respond to online clients,” says Charles (Xu) Zhixiang, CAP-TB program officer in Kunming.

Patients’ lives have been changed through this group, illustrating the power of social media in giving a voice to patients with TB. Speaking about 57 Zone, Ruan Xiaoyan, a 34-year-old woman with TB, said, “57 Zone is important, with a value that is priceless. I have been a TB patient for a long time. If 57 Zone had come into my life sooner, I would not have suffered so many difficulties and hardships [from TB]. My 57 Zone counselor changed my outlook on life.”

Due to its early success, the CAP-TB team plans to expand the use of 57 Zone and other social media support groups for TB control. The National China TB Bureau is also considering the use of similar innovative strategies throughout China.

The CAP-TB project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to reduce the incidence and mortality of MDR-TB in China, Myanmar and Thailand. In China, a country with a population of over 1.3 billion and a health system that is stretched in its capacity to handle a growing MDR-TB prevalence, the project aims for high-impact, cost-effective interventions, such as early diagnosis and treatment success, with the potential for scale-up and sustainability.