13 November 2012

Africa: Mobile Phones Set to Improve Family Planning

Photo: UN Photo
A mother and her newborn child. Family planning has been said to be a key determinant of development.

USE of mobile phone technology in Tanzania is set to become health issues' information gateway, especially on family planning and reproductive health.

Addressing journalists in Dar es Salaam , the Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Donan Mmbando said mobile phone technology, famously known as M-health, would improve access to family planning and reproductive health services to people living in rural areas. He noted that the technology will make it easier to follow up on patients or those on family planning, as well as track family planning stocks in health centres across the country, and relocate stocks to centres that are running low.

"Integration of mobile phone technology within the health sector has the potential to promote a better health communication system, where we can easily track stocks across the country and relocate medication where it's needed as well as provide relevant information on family planning," Mr Mmbando noted.

Dr Mmbando who was presiding over a four-day health stakeholders meeting comprising 14 countries from Africa on the 'Use of Mobile Technologies for Family Planning and Reproductive Health' on behalf of the Minister for Health, explained that the government objective is to increase use of family planning in the country.

"Currently the statistics show that only 28 per cent of the population uses family planning, our target is to increase this figure to 60 per cent in 2015, and use of mobile phones is one way of increase the use by providing relevant information including where they can be accessed," he explained.

In a bid to reach the target set, the government is also reviving the community-based contraceptive distributors who will be paid a salary as opposed. "Previously the community based contraceptive distributors were paid in kind, however we want to change the whole plan, have them paid a salary, and they must be those who have attained form four education," he added.

The use of mobile phone or M-health as it is called and the community-based contraceptive distributors will reach more people, especially in the rural areas, that could not previously be easily reached. "We want to bring family planning and reproductive health information to the homesteads, we will tell them where they can access family planning and other reproductive health services.

With the use of mobile phones, many people will access family planning and reproductive health services," he noted. Countries attending the meeting organized by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), include Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Burundi, Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Mali, Madagascar, Guinea and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

USAID - Washington, Director- Office of Population and Reproductive Health Mr Scott Radloff studies show that every family in Africa has access to a mobile phone, including in rural areas. "This technology has proved vital in reaching many people, even in difficult to reach areas to give them information on family planning and Reproductive health, it has worked in other countries including Kenya," he explained.

Mr Radloff noted that mobile phone technology is important in all sectors but holds a far greater importance in the health sectors because of its ability to reach even the less educated and in difficult areas where it cannot be easily reached. The Family Coordinator in the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, Division of Reproductive Health in Kenya, Ms Gladness Someren noted that high penetration of mobile phones in Kenya has successfully enabled the use of M-health.

"Provincial results show that people are more aware on health issues after M-health was instituted, as well as community tracking," she explained.

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