Mobile phones for Family Planning in Uganda

Telecoms

As health practitioners, politicians and entrepreneurs from all walks of life gathered in London for the Family Planning Health Summit, the rest of the world commemorated World Population Day on July 11th 2012 with this year’s global theme being “Universal Access to Reproductive Health Services”. The focus of the family planning summit was to invest in family planning in order to reduce maternal deaths and improve womens and girls' health. I hope that the conference created momentum and was able to highlight this need to invest in family planning which will in turn make it a lot easier to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) 4 and 5. Target 5b of the MDG’s is to “Achieve Universal Access to Reproductive Health by 2015".

In Uganda more than 4 out of every 10 women wish to access modern contraception to plan their family but cannot. They have an unmet need for Family Planning. Family Planning alone would reduce the country’s maternal mortality ratio by 33%. Uganda also has one of the highest teenage pregnancies in Africa. According to the UDHS 2006, one of every four pregnancies occurs in a teenager. By 15 years of age, 24% of girls and 10% of boys are sexually active (debut 16.6 for girls and 18.1 for boys). Yet only 11% of sexually active young people are using contraception. Uganda also continues to have one of the highest birth rates in Africa and one of the fastest growing populations in the world.  This no doubt poses new challenges – more so in areas such as education and health care delivery given the youthful population of  – 70% under the age of 24, 56% under 15 years.

In partnership with Program for Accessible health Communications and Education (PACE) , Text to Change is using SMS and Interactive Voice Responses(IVR) to reach out to women as well as check with service providers to find out which women are using family planning. The project is being carried out in central, western and Northern parts of Uganda.

The IVR are pre-recorded in four languages, three of which are local (Luo. Runyankole and Luganda) to cater for a bigger majority of the women who are unable to read or write but who can easily follow the prompts on a phone and listen to instructions on how to access family planning services in a language that they are comfortable with within their community. SMS is usually used to back up the voice and it interactive, informative and incentive based to encourage more people to use their phones to access these services. According to the project beneficiaries, this has been a service that has not only added value to their lives but has also empowered them.

In 2011, PACE’s ProFarm franchise enabled more than thirty thousand women to receive long term family planning method (Inter Uterine devices and implants). A total of approximately 1488 have been reached by mobile phone through voice and SMS.