News / Africa

Smart Phones Improve Access to Health Information

Andrew Green
KAMPALA, Uganda  - The widespread affordability of cell phones in developing countries, like Uganda, has led to experiments with voice and text message-driven health campaigns.  Now mobile phone technology has become an important tool for groups looking to reach even the most rural communities. 

The first campaign that Text to Change -- or TTC -- conducted in 2007 was a quiz about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  15,000 Ugandans received text messages with questions about the virus and were encouraged to respond.  They also received texts telling them about nearby HIV counseling and testing services.

The result was a 40-percent increase in the number of people who showed up for testing at the highlighted centers.  Bas Hoefman, one of the founders of TTC, says the campaign demonstrated the possibilities for using mobile technology to improve health care in the region -- a concept commonly called "mHealth".

"The importance of mHealth in Uganda, and in Africa in general, is that people leapfrogged from nothing to mobile phones.  So all of a sudden, you have the huge potential to reach out to people with mobile phones with health information," explained Hoefman.

Since its initial campaign, TTC has worked with partner organizations to run increasingly refined projects about a range of health issues.  The group collects cell phone numbers through radio advertisements or on-the-ground canvassing and then sends out texts or voice messages through a platform it built.

Some campaigns encourage people to share their knowledge about specific issues so organizations can better tailor their messages.  Other efforts use texts to remind people to take their medicines.

Eunice Namirembe is a program manager at TTC.  She says an important part of crafting the campaigns is going out to targeted communities to get a sense of what kinds of content will work best.

"When you go down to the community, you find that the challenges are different.  The mobile coverage is different.  The language they understand is different.  Then you start interviewing them about what type of content they need.  In what language do they need it?  When do they want to receive these messages," Namirembe explained. "Because the timing is very important."

Kawempe Home Care, based in one of Kampala's poorer neighborhoods, provides health services to people living with HIV, cancer and tuberculosis. 

Dr. Samuel Guma, the executive director of the organization, says it is critical for all of his patients to adhere to a regular treatment schedule.  In 2010,  a trial campaign with TTC targeting HIV patients was introduced. "We sent our patients text messages everyday.  Actually, twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, basically to remind them that's when they're supposed to take their medicine," he said. "The outcomes were really fantastic.  Actually, we saw a drastic increase in average adherence of our patients."

Five years after he started the organization, Hoefman says groups like Kawempe Home Care have demonstrated that technology is a viable tool for improving health care.

This week, a summit in Cape Town has brought many of those groups together to discuss the future of health and technology.  

Hoefman says TTC is keeping an eye on evolving technology, but for the immediate future plans to stick with voice and text messages, because they have been proven to work.  Even those modes still contain some hurdles that have to be overcome.

Despite the widespread use of cell phones in many developing countries, hundreds of thousands of people do not have access to them.  Or, in Uganda, husbands sometimes retain control of the phone, making it difficult for targeted messages to reach women.  Paul Hamilton, the chief of party for Management Sciences for Health in Uganda, worked with TTC on a handwashing campaign in two districts.

He says many people did not have access to phones, so they chose to provide information through handwritten forms. "So that's something we need to look at further before we really scale this up and see SMS technology as a way where we can spread as widely," Hoefman said. "Now, having said that, I think the potential is there."

 As cell phone coverage continue to grow, Hoefman says so will the possibilities for health.

You May Like

China May Be Biggest Winner From Ukraine Crisis

Missile sales, oil and gas shipments are among many areas that may drive Beijing and Moscow closer together in coming years More

Obama Faces Chaotic World, Limits of Power

Current foreign policy issues bring into focus challenges for US policymakers who are mindful of Americans' waning appetite for overseas military engagements More

SADC Meeting Lesotho Officials to Resolve Stalemate

Official says regional bloc has been engaged with leaders in Lesotho to resolve political disagreement that led to coup attempt More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid