Using cellphones to deliver health services to teens: a sub-saharan africa review

Oluwaseyi Dolapo Somefun of the University of the Western Cape and University of Hull academics Franklin Ikechukwu Onukwugha (Post-Doctoral Research Fellow), Lesley Smith (Professor of Women’s Public Health, Institute of Clinical and Applied Health Research) and Monica Magadi (Professor of Social Research and Population Health) on using mobile phones to combat unplanned pregnancies.

Adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa have the highest rate of unplanned pregnancies. Almost half (46%) of these unintended pregnancies among adolescents end in abortion.

Lack of access to family planning services contributes significantly to high rates of unplanned pregnancy and subsequent maternal death among this group. This is due to restrictive health policies, social norms, and health system barriers such as lack of privacy, and confidentiality.

Mobile health interventions can help. Mobile health involves using mobile phones or devices to improve health behaviours and services. Mobile health interventions have become popular in addressing several health issues.

These interventions offer convenience, confidentiality, and privacy. This makes them an appealing way to reach adolescents. They are particularly important when it comes to adolescents accessing sexual and reproductive health services.

There are half a billion mobile phone service subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa. This is almost half of the region’s population. Mobile health offers great opportunities to deliver and monitor health interventions at a much lower cost than traditional face-to-face services. They also offer a wider reach.

Several studies have documented that mobile health interventions work to improve the use of public health services. But limited studies have shown if mobile health interventions improve adolescents’ uptake of sexual and reproductive health services in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a recently published review we evaluated mobile health interventions. The aim was to see if they were effective in improving adolescents’ uptake of sexual and reproductive health services.

The results showed that mobile health interventions were effective. They improved adolescents’ uptake of sexual and reproductive health services across a wide range of services. The evidence was strongest for contraceptive use.

Our findings suggest that mobile health interventions promoting prevention or treatment adherence for HIV for individuals at risk of or living with HIV are acceptable to adolescents. And that they are feasible to deliver in sub-Saharan Africa.

We concluded that there is a need to develop mobile health interventions tailored for adolescents. These, if low cost, have the potential to improve the sexual and reproductive health outcomes in the region.