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New Tools for Family Planning in KenyaPosted by: admin on Wed, 2010-09-15 17:05
A pilot project in Nairobi focuses on increasing awareness about family planning options. Using their mobile phone, Kenyans can now get information about contraception and other reproductive issues.
By Dinfin Mulupi
A new public education service in Kenya aims to increase knowledge about family planning. All one needs to access the service is a mobile phone. Launched in May 2010, the service, dubbed m4RH (Mobile for Reproductive Health), is taking advantage of the growing use of mobile phones and text messaging in Kenya to deliver automated information about reproduction.
The pilot project was rolled out in Nairobi by the international nongovernmental organization Family Health International (FHI), which is testing the project in collaboration with nine health clinics. Before implementing the project, FHI conducted feasibility research. Formative assessment results indicated widespread use in Kenya of mobile phones and SMS. Users said they would welcome and trust messages on family planning options delivered via text and that they would recommend the service to their family and friends (Click here for full research findings).
Focus on the Family
By providing accurate information on family planning, FHI hopes to get more women to use family planning methods to control the timing and number of children they conceive. Kenya is experiencing a population boom. A 2009 census report released last month revealed that the average Kenyan woman gives birth to four or five children. Recent statistics from Kenya’s National Co-ordinating Agency for Population and Development show that the population has increased almost 35 percent in the last decade.
The NCAPD has also reported that one in four married women expresses a desire to space or limit their births, but is not using any form of family planning. According to the agency, the key reason behind the skyrocketing population growth is the low access to and use of family planning methods among people of reproductive age. Among other benefits to Kenya, better family planning would reduce the rate of child mortality, maternal mortality and poverty.
Beatrice Ochieng, a technical monitor at FHI, explained: “The primary goal is to give correct information on family planning including the use, duration and side effects [of contraception], inform users of nearby clinics they can access services and finally convince users to take up family planning.”
How it Works
The m4RH service provides users with automated information on family planning and other reproductive issues via SMS text messaging. With an estimated 20 million mobile phone subscribers in Kenya, the FHI project has the potential to reach a considerable number of people, if successful. FHI is implementing the project with a number of partners, including FHI’s PROGRESS project, USAID, Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK), Marie Stopes Kenya (MSK), Text To Change (TTC) and the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.
FHI has developed a set of interactive text messages on family planning methods that users can access via their mobile phones. By sending a free SMS short code to “448,” mobile phone users can access information about eight contraception methods and the location and phone numbers of nearby reproductive health clinics. The service is hosted by TTC, a nonprofit organization that uses mobile phone technology to collect and disseminate health information. The service is currently available through Zain (Bharti Airtel Kenya) but is expected to be expanded to all other mobile phone providers in Kenya.
View an interactive demonstration of the m4RH service (Adobe Flash Player required)
In addition to offering accurate information on family planning, the service counters myths associated with family planning in Africa. For example, some Kenyans believe the use of contraception will cause babies to have disabilities or get HIV. Some men relish the birth of many children, as it is a a sign of strength. Others worry that women would become promiscuous if they use contraception.
Beatrice Ochieng, a technical monitor at FHI, says the service does not seek to eliminate the need for a doctor. Text messages allow a maximum of 160 characters which limits the information that can be provided. Consequently, users may still need additional information and, of course, a doctor to administer the kind of family planning method the user chooses.
Getting the Word Out
To maximize participation in the service, FHI has been distributing promotional material in Nairobi through the health facilities operated by FHOK and MSK. Plans are underway to distribute the promotional material through universities, salons and areas where women and youth frequent. Ochieng explains that because male involvement in family planning is limited in Kenya, the service is more likely to be productive by targeting women.
“We have distributed 5,000 promotional write ups including flyers, palm cards and posters to promote the services. From May to August we received over 2,000 SMS hits .We are now analyzing the data to ascertain how many SMS’s came from unique numbers to find out how many people have used the service,” said Ochieng.
Dinfin Mulupi is a business journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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