In Dakar, a session on techno-frontiers of family planning hosted by DKT’s Chris Purdy

The explosive growth of mobile phones in developing countries has presented family planning and reproductive health practitioners with increasing opportunities to capitalize on those technologies to strengthen their programs in a variety of programmatic and geographical settings around the world:

* In Kenya and Tanzania, a low-cost tool (m4RH) was developed to provide women and men with key family planning SMS information on a range of methods.
* In Bangladesh, a public-private partnership called Mobiles for Health (M4H) was forged to deliver phone-based audio health messages to pregnant women and new mothers linked to their due dates. M4H was expected to launch at the national level in December 2011 with the objective of reaching 500,000 women in three years
* Also in Tanzania, the JSI Deliver project has been piloting the use of SMS and mobile phones to ensure the smooth operation of supply chain logistics in the public sector.

These and other case studies were presented at a crowded event entitled [mHealth for Family Planning](https://www.conftool.com/fpconference2011/index.php?page=browseSessions&...) at the [2011 Conference on Family Planning](http://www.fpconference2011.org/) in Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday, the first full day of the conference. The event was moderated by Chris Purdy of [DKT International](http://dktinter.s463.sureserver.com/) and Mojisola Aderonke Odeku of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communication Programs in Nigeria.

"As access to digital and mobile technology becomes more prevalent in the developing world, we are faced with exciting opportunities to reach rural, underserved, and generally hard-to-reach populations,” said Purdy. “The ability to communicate broadly and often anonymously with large numbers of people on topics that are of a sensitive nature has the potential to significantly change the reproductive health landscape.”

Purdy, the executive vice president of DKT International, has been with DKT for 15 years and has served as country director in [Ethiopia](http://healthmarketinnovations.org/program/dkt-ethiopia), [Turkey](http://healthmarketinnovations.org/program/dkt-turkey) and [Indonesia](http://healthmarketinnovations.org/program/dkt-indonesia), where he managed the largest social marketing family planning program in the world. In Turkey, he leveraged high use of the Internet and social media to promote sales and use of condoms among young people, and he wrote [an article for Reproductive Health Matters](http://www.rhm-elsevier.com/article/S0968-8080%2811%2937549-0/abstract) on that experience ([also described here](http://healthmarketinnovations.org/blog/2011/may/12/social-marketing-nex...)).

The mHealth session in Dakar showed how many different ways that mobile technology is being harnessed to deliver improved outcomes in family planning. A presentation by the [Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) Project](http://www.shopsproject.org/), for example, showed how this is being done through the private sector.

“The ubiquitous reach of commercial mobile networks to even the most marginalized communities provides the ability to tap into new corporate resource partners with a stake in the health of their customers, to engage a growing cadre of young IT professionals ready to apply their skills to humanitarian causes, and to inspire collaboration among FP organizations who traditionally work in isolation,” according to the SHOPS conference abstract.

The abstract concluded: “These case studies bring into focus the nascent but promising role of communications technologies to foster behavior change in FP providers, clients, and program implementers. mHealth activities create efficiencies in client care through standardized and scalable solutions, and incentivize corporate partners seeking socially responsible investments that also help their bottom line. Taken together, the continuum of mobile phone interventions opens new avenues for private sector impact on FP outcomes.”

[FHI360](http://www.fhi.org/en/index.htm) presented its experience with the Mobile for Reproductive Health (m4RH) text-messaging service to disseminate standardized, accurate contraceptive information in Kenya and Tanzania, while also studying the implementation process. Launched with a single mobile phone provider, the program is now available across all mobile networks in Kenya and Tanzania. Recently, m4RH attracted attention from new partners interested in expanding the system to support additional reproductive health programs, especially in HIV and AIDS.

The abstract concluded: “Current and potential partners regard m4RH as a feasible and affordable way to convey information about contraception to large numbers of people and to generate demand for FP. Many partners have expressed an interest in maintaining the service after the study is completed. Partners also view the m4RH platform as a way to provide additional health content and mobile-phone based programs for a variety of different health needs, including HIV/AIDS and maternal and child health.”

A separate Dakar presentation of FHI360, [Reaching Young People via Mobile Phones](https://www.conftool.com/fpconference2011/index.php?page=browseSessions&...), focused on using m4RH to reach youth and young adults. The study found that about one-third of users were 19 years old or younger, and about half were 20 to 29. Thus, the study concluded that the mobile phone is an effective way to reach young audiences with family planning information.

Other Dakar sessions have looked at the development of mobile applications that guide counselors in giving advice to clients with medical or obstetric conditions on which contraceptives may be used, evaluation of using mobile phones to support medical abortion and post-abortion family planning promotion in South Africa, evaluation approaches used in assessing a community mobile phone intervention in Ghana and the framework for evaluation and scale-up of mHealth projects focused on reproductive health.

Follow David Olson on Twitter @davidjolson