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By Mojca Cargo

A look at ‘mHealth: Emerging High-Impact Practices for Family Planning’

A mother and her newborn child at the new hospital in Suai, Timor-Leste.

This week, the FHI 360/PROGRESS project and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Knowledge for Health project published a draft on the use of mobile technologies in support of family planning and reproductive health, called ‘mHealth: Emerging High-Impact Practices for Family Planning.’ [1] This is the first draft of a brief on mHealth in the High Impact Practices (HIPs) in Family Planning series, developed through USAID, in collaboration with UNFPA.

Summary of main topics:

mHealth Background: As written by the authors, “mHealth programs provide a range of educational and support functions for achieving family planning and reproductive health goals. While these programs can be categorized in myriad ways, in general, they fall into two broad categories of mHealth practice: client centered and health system strengthening.”

Why is the practice important? “Mobile phones are seemingly everywhere, and the growth of mobile phones is being driven by demand in developing countries.  In 2010 alone, developing countries saw a 20% annual growth rate in mobile subscriptions with no signs of slowing down (ITU 2012; World Bank 2011).  From 2005 to 2010 mobile subscriptions in developing countries grew 221% (ITU 2012).”

What is the impact? “Evidence documenting the impact of mHealth on health and system outcomes is sparse and only recently available. Two journals – the Bulletin of the WHO and the Journal of Health Communication – released mHealth themed issues in 2012, helping to push the mHealth evidence base forward.”

Peer reviewed evidence on mHealth for family planning: Limited evidence is available documenting the use of mobile phones for family planning with some of the key findings:

  • SMS network bridges gap between district staff and CHWs
  • Information about FP methods can be delivered effectively by mobile phone
  • SMS reminders improved OCP continuation

Peer reviewed evidence on mHealth for Other Topics: Selected mHealth studies showing their relevance and potential utility for expanding access to family planning:

  • Text messaging is a feasible and acceptable way for youths to receive information and service referrals
  • SMS reminders improved ART adherence
  • SMS reminders increased skilled delivery attendance
  • SMS reminders improved quality of pediatric malaria case management
  • Rich media clinical guidelines on mobile phones reduces CHW errors
  • SMS reporting reduced stock\outs of anti\malarials
  • Reporting on patient\specific clinical information showed no improvement in outcomes

How to do it: tips from the implementation experience (Synthesis of guidance from published literature, gray literature, and in-depth interviews with 18 experts in the field.)

  • PLANNING DESIGN: Determine if your proposed mHealth solution is appropriate for the context.
  • TECHNOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS: Determine to what extent the proposed mHealth project will work with existing technologies, infrastructure, and capacity.
  • SCALE UP: Determine the potential for the project to be implemented on a larger scale.
  • SUSTAINABILITY: Consider the accessibility of resources for the long>term operation of the project.
  • EVALUATION: Assess the potential contribution of evidence generated by this project.

Join mHealth Working Group’s Online Discussion Forum

To discuss the findings of this paper, the mHealth Working Group is organising an online discussion forum on January 22-25. According to Laura Raney from mHealth Working Group, the discussion will be guided by various guest experts from number of organisations that will contribute with key challenges, promising practices, approaches, gaps in tools, and resources and recommendations for future discussion. Topics include: planning and design of mHealth programs, technological considerations, scale-up, sustainability, and evaluation.

To join this discussion, send an e-mail to or submit a contribution to the mHealth Working Group community of practice.


[1] Written by: L’Engle K, Succop S, Lee C, Sortijas S, Raney L, Zan T., 2012.

Photo: UN Photo/Martine Perret


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