Celebrate Solutions: Mobile Technology as Innovative Communication Channel for Reproductive Health
April 23rd, 2012
By: Eunice Namirembe and Bas Hoefman
According to the Guttmacher Institute/IPPF publication Facts on the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Adolescent Women in the Developing World, it is estimated that in Sub-Saharan Africa, 67% of married adolescent women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using any method and about 12% are using traditional methods of family planning. They further state that 42% of unmarried, sexually active women are using no family planning method at all. This could be due to the fact that access to knowledge about contraceptive methods is a major barrier for young people in Africa. An added challenge is overcoming the common myths and misconceptions about contraception. Often, young people are reluctant to seek information or clarification about contraception from a clinic setting because of concerns around privacy and confidentiality, cost of services, and provider biases. Convenience of clinic locations and hours of operation is another challenge for many young people.
It is estimated that 27% of the 5.9 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide are people under the age of 30. According to the International Telecommunications Union, (ITU), (June 2010), there over 6 billion mobile subscribers; at least 79% are in the developing world. Mobile phones present a tremendous opportunity for promoting family planning awareness, uptake, and continuation by helping women and men choose and maintain the contraceptive method that is most suitable for their needs. Moreover, mobile phones are private and confidential. Young people may stay away from clinics or conversations with health care providers or other adults, for fear of being stigmatized for seeking out information about reproductive health.
M4RH: How it works
The m4RH project was launched in May 2010 by Family Health International (FHI) Kenya, funded by USAID, with Text to Change (TTC) responsible for the technical design and platform. The partnership is a spread of other organizations including FHI’s PROGRESS project, USAID, Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK), Marie Stopes Kenya (MSK), and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation. It took 1.5 years to develop and deploy the M4RH system. The content is based on World Health Organization and country-specific Family Planning (FP) guidelines and was reviewed by global and in-country FP experts, clinic partners, and MOH and translated and tested in English (Kenya) and Swahili (Tanzania)
The Text to Change platform is built to conceptualize an automated, key word, text-based system that is compatible with a basic mobile device to maximize reach and access to health information via a mobile phone. The platform also connects over all telecom service providers in a country. Using the key word ‘M4RH’’ an end user is able to reach the platform over a short code, from which they will access information on eight contraception methods, and locations and phone numbers of nearby reproductive health clinics. Also, information and facts dispelling myths around family planning are shared to respondents that voluntarily opt in to the M4RH service. In Tanzania, the service is available in Swahili to curb language barriers.
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