mHEALTH-INNOVATE (17) What can we learn from health workers' informal use of mobile phones? (9)

14 April, 2022

Use of Phones/Messaging Apps in Uganda

Its important to note that majority of the health workers both at community and facility use personal phones to conduct their official duties to communicate, consult, coordinate and mobilise for work. Its also common for health workers to use their own airtime and data to carry out these activities. The health workers use their phones to communicate with their clients as well as their supervisors and colleagues. Specifically with patients, health workers use phones to mobilise clients for community outreach activities, follow up adherence and remind clients of their clinic days especially for chronic diseases like HIV, Diabetes and High blood pressure. Health workers also use phones to share lab results with their clients, facilitate referral systems to higher health institutions, police in cases of violence and probation offices in cases of suspected child abuse. Its also interesting to note in rural communities with no or irregular electricity supply, health workers especially midwives use their phone as sources of light during service delivery at night.

Health workers also use their phones to communicate with other facility members to address supply chain issues like drugs and lab reagents stock out, request for technical support (mainly from higher level facilities and partner organisations conducting mentorship and coaching sessions), participate in online trainings, submit reports and requests for drugs and other supplies and collect data especially in situations where the ministry and/or partner organisations request for data different from that submitted on a monthly or quarterly basis.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, facility health set up informal WhatsApp groups (in Northern Uganda) to ensure quality service delivery. Such groups had the participation of facility health workers, community health worker (Village Health Teams) and local leaders. The facility health workers would use such channels to conduct mentorship sessions after trainings during the lockdowns. Community health workers would also use the same channels to secure first line help, report reactions to medication (Family planning projects) and share weekly progress reports.

However, the challenge with this method was that many people do not know how to type using their phones. They resorted to audios and video recordings which created a challenge for data management. The channel was used for community systems strengthening in Lango Region.

Its critical that the ministry and her partners consistently review and document such innovations and design strategies that integrate the same where possible.

HIFA profile: Immaculate Nakityo Lwanga is a Project Manager/Administrator at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Uganda. She is interested in working with projects/programmes on HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, Health Systems Strengthening, socio-economic empowerment for vulnerable populations, Gender and women and Orphans and other Vulnerable children. Such programmes may focus on awareness and education, capacity building, direct service delivery and/or research. She is a member of the HIFA mHEALTH-INNOVATE working group.

Email: immacn AT