App drives faster data collection for family planning

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Women at a family planning forum in Kangemi, Nairobi. The PMA2020 app gathers continuous and accurate information on family planning so at to promote universal access to reproductive health services. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Each morning, Christine Muthoni visits selected households in Nairobi County, knocking on doors and collecting vital reproductive health information.

She then feeds the data onto an app at each household before moving on to the next.

Previously, enumerators like her would undertake the task with paper questionnaires that they would peruse page after page to capture all relevant details.

As soon as enumerators input the data on the digital questionnaires on their smart phones, the information is relayed to a central server that enables experts to rapidly analyse the incoming data and use them to prepare summary reports, tables and graphs that track progress of various family planning indicators.

Muthoni noted that unlike questionnaires, the app is user friendly.

“It offers guidance on enquiries to be made and assistance on how to approach sensitive topics that have the potential of intimidating or making respondents uncomfortable.”

The PMA2020 app also generates automatic “checks and balances” questions that verify the consistency and accuracy of answers being given by interviewees.

The technology, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health, is specially designed to capture information on family planning as well as other health and development indicators.

It is aimed at assisting developing nations in Africa and Asia to gather continuous and accurate information on family planning so at to promote universal access to contraceptive services, which enable families to space births and decide on the number of children they would like to have.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), women are supposed to give birth at an interval of at least two years as this gives the body ample time to heal after a previous delivery.

The spacing also averts pregnancy complications that threaten the survival of new born babies.

In Kenya, the PMA2020 initiative is led by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH) Kenya, National Council for Population and Development (NCPD), and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Through the app, nations are able to get community level data on the levels of awareness, access, use and demand for family planning services.

Previously, the government had to wait for five years to get this kind of in-depth data from the Kenya Demographic and Health Surveys (KDHS). The information is now relayed to the MOH and NCPD on a yearly basis.

“The five year duration was such a long time and many things would change on the ground. But now we are able to track the progress of family planning uptake in different parts of the country and act accordingly in case of any prevailing gaps,” Dr Josephine Mbae, Director- General of NCPD told the Business Daily.

Kenya has a contraceptive prevalence rate of 58 per cent, which leaves behind about 40 percent of women who are unable to adequately plan their family sizes. The data generated by the app is helping MOH to devise effective approaches of reaching out to the latter group.

“These data offer a good planning tool for the national and county governments. They are able to make informed decisions on where to channel family planning resources and determine the quantity of supplies required,” said Dr Peter Gichangi, Director of ICRH Kenya.

He said that since the app provides a cost-effective and accurate approach to data collection, it could eventually be adopted by the KNBS for use in all other types of national surveys that the institution conducts.

Dr Mbae noted that since smart phones are now widespread in the country, the app can enable the government to cut on human resource for data collection by simply employing the services of young people in specified research areas.

Aside from data collection, family planning experts are also embracing the use of different forms of technology such as social media to increase public awareness on sexual and reproductive health matters.

Twenty four year old Ann Mitu, commonly referred to as the digital family planning champion, runs a Facebook page known as Young Mothers Africa.

Having become pregnant at a tender age of 19, she decided to establish this platform in 2014 as a way of reaching out to other young mothers and offering them the support she struggled to get during her pregnancy.

She says that the platform has made it easier to mobilise young people from different parts of the country who feel free to engage with their peers and inquire about family planning services so as to avoid unwanted pregnancies or abortions.
“Some people share stuff online while those who want privacy will inbox me and I will direct them to the family planning clinics where they can get the services they prefer,” said Mitu.

She however states that technology should not completely replace human interaction but complement it.

Dr Babatunde Osotihemin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), stated that technology allows people to have anonymous and informative conversations without the fear of stigma when dealing with sensitive subjects such as sex that is considered a taboo topic in most African nations.

Through its innovation fund, the company is keen on supporting digital inventions that promote universal access to reproductive health information and services.



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