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ASCENT: Empowering patients through digital technology

23 July 2019


The next three and a half years, KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation will lead the innovative ASCENT project, which stands for Adherence Support Coalition to End TB. This brand new project is funded by Unitaid through a grant of almost US$ 14 million and will be implemented  in five different countries (Ethiopia, Tanzania, the Philippines, South Africa and Ukraine). It will support TB patients during their treatment with digital adherence technologies. These groundbreaking innovations have great added value for both patients and caregivers.

Tuberculosis is the deadliest infectious disease in the world, killing 1.6 million people annually. Unnecessary, because TB can be cured. However, TB treatment is long and complicated as it involves the daily intake of several medicines during 6-24 months. If patients regularly miss a daily dose, or interrupt treatment, this can have serious consequences such as developing resistance to TB drugs and/or relapse of the disease later during life. Therefore, patients are often advised to take the daily medication at the health center or receive caregivers for daily visits at their home. Obviously,  these supportive measures put a burden on both the patient and the health system.

Digital adherence tools (DAT), such as a pillbox that sends a signal when it is opened, empowers patients by giving them more freedom to take the medication when and where it suits them best. The caregiver can easily monitor intake and offer assistance when needed. This makes it possible to provide better individualized care and focus efforts on those patients that need extra support. At this 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.

Signing ASCENT project

The contract for the ASCENT project was signed today at Unitaid’s headquarters in Geneva. Kitty van Weezenbeek, executive director of KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation: “KNCV is excited and honored to lead the Unitaid-funded ASCENT-project! Digital adherence tools empower patients and allow health workers to deliver differentiated care to those patients that need extra support. This project looks into feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness in different settings and different patient populations. As such, ASCENT contributes to evidence generation for the responsible and rational use of DAT in the context of patient centered treatment modalities. We look forward to working with national TB programs, patient representatives and our consortium partners to bring DAT to scale.”

“This project takes a familiar device, the mobile phone, and turns it into an innovative disease-fighting tool,” Unitaid executive director Lelio Marmora said.  “So many more people will be able to adhere to the long treatment and return to good health with the support of this technology.”

In the coming years KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation will work together with the consortium partners PATH, The Aurum Institute and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine for the Unitaid-funded ASCENT project.

PICTURE: Kitty van Weezenbeek, executive director of KNCV Tuberculosis Foundation (right) and Unitaid executive director Lelio Marmora sign the contract for the ASCENT project.