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Health and Mobile Phones

By Margaret Sevume

ICTs will be accessible to everyone in the world by 2015.  This is stated on the website that tells you what is happening in telecommunications around the world called ITNews found at http://www.itu.int/net/itunews/issues/2010/10/04.asp. This site gives facts and figures in the telecom sector. Mobile technology is one of the rising forms of ICTs that is vastly significant in developing countries and is believed to significantly facilitate the accomplishment of internationally agreed development goals. Close to 200 000 text messages are sent globally every second.

In Russia, The Health and Development Foundation developed a program, “A Comprehensive mHealth Approach to Reaching At-Risk Women,” aimed at keeping the at-risk groups of women and new mothers who are HIV+  informed and connected to a multi-sectoral medical and social support network and system of care.  Clients   were invited to join the program where they received individual counselling, and text messages, developed by relevant health care specialists, with content related to the counselling topics.


In the world’s leading medical journal with editorial offices in London, New York and Beijing,The Lancet publication of July 2011 featured an intervention dubbed Text2stop carried out in USA, where smoking cessation programmes delivered via mobile phone text messaging registered marked increases in self-reported quitting in the short term.

Combating Counterfeit Drugs with Mobile Phones:

Few imitation goods have as devastating an impact on consumers as counterfeit drugs. Fake prescription drugs made with cheaper sometimes even dangerous ingredients pose significant risks to already vulnerable populations. Sproxil mobilized funds to empower patients and consumers in the fight against counterfeit medication in India and Kenya.


Uganda has also used the mobile phone as a tool to improve the health situation. Connect for Change (C4C) is a consortium of Dutch development and ICT specialised organizations with a vision of a world where people are able to access relevant information and create their own future.  Two of the C4C project partners in Uganda  have used mobile phones as a tool for information dissemination; Health Child  Uganda uses mobile phone telephony (SMS messaging) to: remind mothers of their scheduled antenatal care and postnatal days, pass on health information to pregnant mothers relevant to their trimesters and increase community health awareness through interactive health quizzes. Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation (UNHCO) is partnering with Text to Change,  a Dutch funded  non-governmental organization, to design and send maternal health messages to community members aged between 15-49 years of both sexes.

A free call to get Health solutions
Toll-free National Health Hotline, 0800200600
Ugandans all over the country can access health information on HIV/ Aids, family planning and a number of other diseases using the stated hotline. This free hotline service has helped many people access reliable, anonymous and non-judgmental health information on HIV/Aids, family planning, malaria, reproductive health, gender-based violence as well as alcohol abuse. The hotline which started operating in 2009 also promotes health-seeking behaviour by referring its clients to places where they can receive hands-on-service in these areas.


Richard Mashero, the hotline’s Counsellor Supervisor says his team of eight counsellors and four part-time volunteers attends to approximately 300 calls per day from all over Uganda adding that, “people can freely express themselves since it is anonymous, without worrying about the stigma associated with some of the topics that are handled. It gives them the confidentiality they need because they are able to make the calls without us judging them.”
For all sorts of reasons, men tend to be shy about seeking health services. But records, since the hotline’s inception in 2009, show that the majority of callers (70 per cent) have actually been men. This hotline has thereby filled a key information gap among men who would want to have the information but yet fear using the designated channels to access it.

Hotline counsellors like Namakula speak at least three languages, and languages from across the country are all catered for. The counsellors are also thoroughly trained to handle the varied questions raised by callers. They also offer individual, couple and group counselling. All a caller has to do is dial 0800200600 on any network countrywide from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. An example is a student who got raped and infected with HIV/Aids by a family friend but had never told anyone about it. About to sit for A-level exams, the 19-year-old was on the verge of committing suicide because she felt her life was meaningless.  Counsellors provided her with continuous telephone counselling that restored her hope and she was able to sit her UACE exams.

This is an initiative by Communication for Development Foundataion Uganda (CDFU)  which is a non-governmental (NGO) organization that implements strategic communication programs aimed at influencing positive behavior change for the social development of men, women and children in Uganda and the entire East African Region. While recording the calls coming in during a particular month, Anne Gamurorwa, the Executive Director of CDFU says, “In only one month, we had 46,000 calls coming in but were only able to attend to 6,000. So you can see the great need we have. Actually, when there are several health campaigns going on in the country, the hotline receives more calls”. Mashero adds that the hotline receives calls from all over the country and beyond, like from the border towns of Southern Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania.


Mobile phones help bolster Uganda's fight against HIV
A collaborative project between Kawempe Home Care, a local clinic and Text to Change, a Dutch-run non-governmental organisation, uses mobile phones to help remind around 400 patients diagnosed with the virus to take their ARVs regularly.  The programme is part of an attempt in Uganda to harness the power of mobile technology to help fight HIV.
An HIV-positive health worker in the Kampala suburb of Kawempe, Nayiga was part of this scheme. She says the daily messages were a big help for taking the drugs that are taken twice daily and require an adherence rate of around 95 percent to be truly effective.
The SMS scheme saw the number of people taking the drugs correctly rise from 75 percent to over 90 percent. Starting off in Uganda five years ago, Text to Change used SMS quizzes to try and educate people about HIV issues and encourage them to go for testing -- sometimes offering incentives such as phone credit. Since then the organisation has run over 30 HIV-related projects using mobile phones across Africa, such as promoting medical male circumcision in neighbouring Tanzania -- and has reached an estimated 1 million people in Uganda alone.

mTrac – Changing the face of health service delivery in Uganda using SMS
Mobile tracking also known as  mTrac is  a new SMS-based technology connecting hospitals to the national drug chain. Replenishing of depleted drugs is just a click away.
mTrack has also helped in reshaping the work of over 8,000 village health teams (VHTs). Through the mTrack SMS hotline (8200) any community member can report a health service related issue and get a prompt response.
“With just a cheap simple phone in my hand, I have seen cases of diarrhoea and malaria decrease”, says Jessica Nakawesi a VHT worker in Bukomansimbi.


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