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April 25, 2013

Texting Becomes a Health Tool in Kenya

by Joe DeCapua

Mobile phone use in Africa has spread far, wide and fast. By the end of last year, it was estimated that 70 percent of the population would have a mobile phone. Now, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says it’s using the technology to save lives.


In Kenya, the IFRC has developed the Rapid Mobile Phone-based survey, otherwise known as RAMP. It allows the medical aid group to learn a lot about the health of people in remote, rural communities in very little time.

Jason Peat, the senior health officer for malaria, says the idea for the survey came from IFRC volunteers.

“There are volunteers using those mobile phones to communicate. They’re doing it two ways. They’re using them as a regular phone, but more often than not we see them use the phones to send text messages back and forth because they’re a very inexpensive way to communicate. Red Cross volunteers and other community health workers at a very local level were already figuring out a way to manage activities, to manage programs and not just health programs, but all programs using mobile phones,” he said.


Volunteers use RAMP to collect data on such things as antenatal and newborn care, immunizations, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea and other health issues. Peat says the mobile phone survey has sharply reduced costs. It’s 10 times cheaper compared to the old clipboard method.  And it saves a lot of time.

“It’s incredibly quick,” said Peat, “I mean we have a data bulletin in 24 hours, where it took us months to generate a data bulletin before. And we can have a written report within three days. I mean to be straight, it requires a person sitting behind a computer and putting in a full day. But in all the RAMPS we’ve done to date, we’ve had a data bulletin out in 24 hours and we’ve had the first draft of the survey report out in three days.”

The faster the information is gathered, the faster the response.

“This tool allows us very quickly to get to the root of the issue. It allows us to say immediately these are where we have problems. These are where we want to change the health indicators. And this tool gives us that data and the nice thing about it is you can monitor progress very quickly,” he said.

The World Health Organization and top epidemiologists helped the Red Cross develop RAMP. The mobile phone survey is being used to help Kenya and other African countries reach the Millennium Development Goals on health. The target date for the MDGs is 2015.