Aims: To evaluate the effectiveness of telemedicine in the clinical management of children
living with HIV/AIDS in resource-limited settings
Background: Telemedicine is an important mechanism for service delivery in health care settings,
both in resource-rich and resource-poor settings. Such service delivery mechanisms have shown to
be associated with virologic suppression and higher CD4 counts. These services are also associated
with improved access, shorter visiting times, and higher patient satisfaction.
Objective: We designed the present two-group comparison study to compare the clinical evaluation
and management of children in the anti-retroviral therapy (ART) centres linked to telemedicine facility
with those who are not linked to this facility in Maharashtra, India.
Methods: We analysed clinical records from six ART centres in Maharashtra; of these, 250 children
were in the linked ART centres and 301 were in the non-linked ART centres. The outcomes
were classified according to investigations, management, and monitoring. For management, we
evaluated: 1) Initiation of cotrimoxazole prophylaxis; 2) Children not initiated on ART when required;
3) ART regime after appropriate investigations; and 4) Change of regime (if immunologically
indicated). For monitoring, we assessed the haematological monitoring of children on ART.
Results: The mean (SD) ages of children in linked and non-linked ART centres were 10.8 (4.6) and
10.9 (4.6) years, respectively (p=0.80). After adjusting for individual and structural level variables,
physical examination (OR: 2.0, 95% CI; 1.2, 3.2), screening for tuberculosis (OR: 12.9, 95% CI:
2.0, 82.9) and cotrimoxazole prophylaxis were significantly more likely in the linked centres compared
with non-linked centres (OR: 1.8, 95% CI: 1.4, 2.2). A higher proportion of children eligible
for ART were not initiated on treatment in the non-linked centres compared with linked centres
(26% vs. 8%, p=0.06). Children were less likely to be initiated on zidovudine-based regimens without
baseline haemoglobin or with baseline haemoglobin of less than 9 gm% in linked centres (OR:
0.7, 95% CI: 0.6, 0.8). Similarly, children in the linked centres were less likely to have been started
on nevirapine-based regimens without baseline liver enzymes (OR: 0.8, 95% CI: 0.7, 0.9).
Conclusion: Thus, the overall clinical management of Children Living with HIV/ AIDS (CLHA)
was better in ART centres linked with the telemedicine initiative compared with those who were
not linked. Children in the linked ART centres were more likely to have a complete baseline assessment
(physical, hematological, radiological, and screening for TB); the presence of a pediatrician
in the centres was helpful.