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Innovative TB treatment support project kicks off in the Philippines

ASCENT aims to assist patients succeed in treatment using digital adherence technology.

On World Lung Day, the innovative TB treatment support project ASCENT kicks off in the Philippines, making the Philippines the first country in which the project is launched. ASCENT aims to help patients succeed in TB treatment using digital adherence technology. The Philippine Department of Health supports this Unitaid-funded project, implemented by KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation, that will reach over 5,000 patients in four years in the country.

Today the parties promise to operationalize the digital adherence technology intervention in the Philippines through the use of electronic smart pillboxes, mobile technologies, and an overarching data platform. They also commit to generating evidence for optimal use and scaling.

Tuberculosis (TB) is still the deadliest infectious disease worldwide, killing over 4.000 people every day. This is unnecessary as TB can be cured with appropriate treatment. However, one of the difficulties in curing TB is the long treatment duration. Patients have to take medicines for a period ranging from from six months to two years. After a few months, many patients feel better and stop taking their medicines. As a result, the illness returns, and the bacteria gets an opportunity to develop resistance to TB drugs.

To prevent this, patients usually take their medicines at a clinic every day or get a daily visit from a health care worker at home. This approach – ‘Directly Observed Treatment’ – has advanced global decline in TB incidence. However, innovations are needed to improve patient-centered care, enable a more efficient health care system and empower patients and health care workers so that a greater impact in curing and preventing of all types of TB can be achieved.

The ASCENT project will implement and evaluate three different types of digital adherence technologies that will be available in participating health care facilities at no additional cost to the patient. How to use the specific technology will be explained by the health care worker as part of the standard patient treatment initiation process.

Digital adherence technologies:
– Smart Pill Box: the embedded device automatically sends a signal to the health care worker every time the box is opened.


– Medication Sleeves: medication is sleeved in a customized envelope with a unique toll free number to call or text every time the medication is taken.


– Video Supported Treatment: during medication intake, the patient records a video using a customized mobile phone app. The video is sent to the health care worker.

These digital adherence technologies will make it possible for patients to take their medication at a time and place that suits them best. The health care worker is digitally informed about when and if the medicines were taken and can provide extra individual support, if needed.

At the moment these technologies are only used on a small scale in the international fight against TB. The ASCENT project aims to make them accessible to all TB patients worldwide. To do this, the project will implement the relevant technologies and conduct evaluations in five key countries — Philippines, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ukraine and South Africa. In the Philippines, over 90 health care facilities in the Bulacan Province, Pampanga Province and the National Capital Region are participating in the project. The first patients will be enrolled early 2020 without additional treatment costs.

“We look forward to the evidence that will be generated in this project. The National TB Program is fully committed to scaling up impactful approaches resulting from this project”, said Dr. Napoleon L. Arevalo, Director of the Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the Philippine Department of Health.

“Digital adherence technologies can truly make a difference for patients and the fight against TB in the Philippines. At ASCENT we are looking forward to provide these technologies and to empower patients and health care workers, while generating evidence and making future scale-up possible”, said Dr. Andre E. Villanueva, ASCENT project manager in the Philippines.

ASCENT, which stands for Adherence Support Coalition to End TB, runs until the end of 2022. The project is funded and supported by Unitaid and led by KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation in consortium with PATH, The Aurum Institute and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

More information: www.digitaladherence.org