Kenya Uses Phones to Improve Public Health
BY JANET MARAGIOGLIO:
KENYA: Cell phones will soon be used to register births and deaths in Kenya, another way mobile technology is working to improve public health in developing nations.A Health Metrics Network program called Monitoring of Vital Events, or MOVE-IT, aims to speed up and improve birth and death recording in three districts in the African nation. Tens of millions of births and deaths currently go unreported in Kenya, leading to a lack of data necessary for making accurate public health policy and program decisions.
Under MOVE-IT, community health workers use RapidSMS, a free, open-source framework, to send a text message to local authorities about a birth or death in their designated area. A registration agent receives the message containing specific details about the event, then uses OpenXdata, an open-source software for designing Web-based forms on mobile devices, to register the event with Kenya's Department of Civil Registration.
MHealth, or mobile health, programs like MOVE-IT are coming into wider use worldwide and may be especially valuable in developing countries where lack of resources, overpopulation and large percentages of people living in remote areas may hinder public health initiatives like disease prevention, vaccination programs, and prenatal care.
At the mHealth summit early this year, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates proposed a plan similar to MOVE-IT that would register births via mobile phone to help increase vaccination rates in developing countries, recognizing that birth and death rates, and the accurate recording of them, are closely tied to a nation's overall health.
A prototype of the mobile platform supporting MOVE-IT is being tested, with training of community health workers and registration agents next on the agenda. The project is expected to be piloted in a few areas before rolling out to the entire country, but its continued success may depend on having enough community health workers in place to keep tabs on births and deaths over a widespread area.
"Overall, we hope to demonstrate that infrastructural barriers that currently impede registration of births and deaths can be overcome using mHealth," said the World Health Organization's Doris Ma Fat, who traveled to Kenya to help set up the program.
"More robust registration of vital events will ultimately allow decision makers at various levels to have real-time epidemiological data on which to base health policies and targeted health programs," she added.
Kenyan mobile use has increased in recent years, with nearly two-thirds of the country now using cell phones, a trend that gives programs like MOVE-IT a stronger chance of having a positive impact on health nationwide.