Improve health outcomes and save lives
WelTel started as a concept in 2005 when Dr. Richard Lester was living in Kenya and noticed the ubiquitousness of mobile phone penetration. The WHO had a 3 by 5 mandate; to achieve 3M people on ARVs by 2005, and Kenya was at the forefront of this medication distribution. What no one imagined was that over 60% of those introduced to the medications would be lost to follow up within 6 months; the second ‘invisible’ pandemic in a country already adversely affected by HIV. Dr. Lester saw the writing on the wall and quickly began the process of designing a randomized control trial that would produce the world’s leading evidence that text messaging could save lives.
He started with patient focus groups, including groups of commercial sex workers and other marginalized persons, and asked them what they would want in a text messaging program from their healthcare providers. This process was replicated a number of times amongst diverse groups of people in diverse settings to determine the best protocol for text messaging as a way to engage patients in care and the WelTel concept was born. These focus groups helped to create what became the WelTel protocol for the randomized control trial conducted at 3 sites, in 3 different geographical locations in Kenya.
In 2010, the WelTelKenya1 study was announced as the ‘Late Breaker’ in the Lancet, presented and wildly celebrated at the mHealth Summit in Washington DC. At that moment, WelTel became a household name, being cited in publications such as The Economist, CNN Money, The NewYorker, and The Khatmandu Post as well as being featured in CBC’s documentary profiling Canadians working in partnership, doing groundbreaking work in the developing world.
Since that time there has been reverse knowledge translation whereby the WelTel system, developed and tested in Kenya has now been transported back to Canada and piloted in a variety of health conditions in several countries.
Meet Our Team
Dr. Richard Lester
Executive & Scientific Director
Dr. Richard Lester is the founder and chief medical lead for WelTel. Richard designed and lead the original RCT that showed that two-way SMS communication with patients could improve health outcomes (Lancet 2010). Richard is trained as an infectious disease physician, and completed a five year research fellowship in innate immunology in Kenya. Richard has been successful in acquiring grants at the highest level and honour including the PEPFAR/CDC, the NIH and Grand Challenges Canada. He is also engaged at the highest global level and has presented WelTel’s program and scale up plan to the W.H.O, the offices of the Global Health Coordinator (OGAC) in DC, the Economist Health Care in Africa conference, and many international mHealth summits and conferences.
Gabrielle Serafini, DC
President & Chief Operations Officer
Gabrielle Serafini, DC, lived and worked in Africa for over 13 years. She has extensive experience in fundraising, and was an assistant to the director during the conceptual and development phase of WolaNani, an HIV/AIDS organization in South Africa that tackled complex issues in the early days of the epidemic. Gabrielle also works in the healthcare field and has a holistic and comprehensive perspective around health of both individual and community.