IBM and Thai Red Cross Strike Socially Responsible HIV Partnership

In 2010 2.7 million became infected with HIV, bringing the total tally to 34 million HIV positive people in the world. Despite the fact that medication to treat the condition has increased the life expectancy of those infected with the virus and delayed the onset of AIDS, the best way to fight the problem is avoiding infection in the first place.

Thailand is seen as success story in terms of policies to stop the spread of the virus. During the 1990s the government introduced a comprehensive program that resulted in a reduction of visits to commercial sex workers, made condoms popular and reduced the spread of other sexually transmitted diseases. As a consequence, infection figures dropped from 143,000 in 1991 to 19,000 in 2003. Currently, just over 500,000 people live with HIV in that country while new infections stand at around 16,000 per year.

The latest step in the fight against HIV in Thailand is an agreement between the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Center and IBM. The socially responsible deal is part of a drive to make Bangkok a zero HIV infection city by 2015. IBM will be donating its business analytics software and technology expertise to enable TRCARC to design more effective intervention strategies to help end the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The partnership is part of a wider global move to end HIV infections called Getting to Zero, which was launched by UNAIDS. The objective of the campaign is not only to stop new HIV infections, but also to fight discrimination against people living with the virus.

"HIV infection is one of the most serious public health threats Thailand is facing. Unfortunately, only 40 per cent of the HIV infected population knows they are living with the HIV or AIDS and gets access to antiretroviral treatment services. This situation results in continuing spread of the life-threatening virus and new infections are rising every year,” said TRCARC’s director, Professor Emeritus Praphan Phanuphak.

IBM’s software will enable the center to access information and share outputs with collaborating agencies such as the Department of Disease Control and Ministry of Public Health, which will then be able to strengthen HIV prevention efforts. Previous campaigns to prevent and deal with HIV cases were hampered by the use of outdated information. IBM’s software will help researchers make more informed decisions and will help staff share knowledge and skills.

One of the key aspects of the software is that it creates an online behavioural survey with high-risk groups, which can be used as the basis for a database. The IBM DB2 database software makes data retrieval time a lot faster, reducing it from two months to five minutes. It can also develop advanced, fully automated reporting with the use of IBM Cognos business intelligence software that enables better analytics and reporting of behavioral records associated with people with high risk of infection. Other features include table and maps to help staff make better decisions and implement more effective strategies based on real-time analysis.

Elsewhere IBM is also lending its expertise to HIV drug research. The company’s World Community Grid, a network that provides researchers with the spare computing power of two-million PCs owned by 600,000 individuals and organizations, has enabled the Scripps Research Institute to discover two new compounds that could lead to medicines for those infected with HIV.

Image credit: IBM