By Esther Nakkazi
Access to mobile phones across the world is expanding and so is their use in bridging the gap in service delivery and education for family planning for over 215 million women who have no access.
Through innovative new programs, clinics in Tanzania are using mobile phones to track family planning supplies and avoid stockouts and in Nigeria, over 300,000 text messages were sent by youth about reproductive health to experts to inquire about contraceptives.
Increasingly, young people are utilizing mobile technologies to meet their sexual and reproductive health needs wherever they are, whenever they need help according to case studies in east and west Africa.
In Uganda, software programmers working in the ‘cloud’ were able to solve coding challenges for building the text message quiz functionality. Family planning supervisors in low resources organizations are now able to download the resulting platform, FrontlineSMS for use for free.
In Kenya and Tanzania, the M4RH -mobile for reproductive health- text message program provides basic information about nine different family planning methods as well as the locations of clinics where services are offered.
Respondents in the study said they used m4RH so they could make informed decisions about reproductive health and learn about contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies. These are some of the mobile phone technologies being presented at the international family planning conference in Dakar, Senegal, which prove the innovative ways of how mobile phones are being used for family planning awareness and education.
These case studies bring into focus the nascent but promising role of mobile technologies to foster behavior change in Family Planning for providers, clients, and program implementers said researchers.
The technologies are especially helpful for reaching the ‘mobile generation’ in the developed world that give birth before 20 years, basically because they have low access to reproductive health information, supplies and education.
In one of the case studies in Tanzania and Kenya, ‘Family planning in a Digital world: Using Technology to promote family planning among young people’ it says mobile phones are regarded as a “high-impact practice” that can support the provision of family planning services and they offer a new mechanism for delivering health information in a highly relevant, private, and cost-effective manner.
In the Nigeria case study, since the launch in 2007 of ‘Learning about living’ analyses of more than 300,000 ‘screen hits’ showed that the most frequently accessed topic was natural family planning, followed by information about condoms, implants, and emergency contraception.
According to the researchers, it demonstrated that emerging technologies could provide a simple, cost-effective way to reach young people in developing countries with sensitive information they need and want.
They concluded that technology provides an anonymous way to address difficult subjects and engages young people more than traditional communication methods. The social nature of these tools also encourages the rapid spread of accurate, positive sexual and reproductive health messages.
With the use of mobile phones, Tanzania has been able to deliver family planning commodities to service delivery points in a timely manner. This was proven in a six month pilot study ‘Improving family planning commodity availability using mHealth technologies,’ that ended mid 2011 in four districts which were initially consistent with stock outs for commodities.
In the 75 Tanzania facilities, at scheduled time intervals, facility staff used their personal mobile phones to send text messages to report stock on hand, losses and adjustments of ten essential medicines- Copper T IUD, Depo-Provera, implants, condoms, Microgynon and Microvial - supervision frequency, delivery of goods, and report and request submissions.
The facility staff sent text messages to a toll-free short code, data was merged and displayed on an interactive web-based interfaced that prompted decision-making. Monthly reports were also emailed to decision makers at all levels.
It was found that mobile phone technology using cheap and readily available cell phones offers a possible sustainable solution to making quality logistics data for decision-making readily available in real-time.
All the users also indicated they preferred SMS based reporting compared to the paper-based system, they improved their reporting rates and adherence on reporting which in turn improved their timeliness of ordering and stock management.
Mobile phones successfully reduced stockouts of family planning commodities; improved the frequency and quality of supervision provided by supervisors at all levels; and improved the timeliness and accuracy of ordering and reporting deliveries to health facilities.