Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Innovative Use of Mobile Phones Will Expand Access to Contraceptive Choices

December 02, 2013

I was in Ethiopia recently and had an opportunity to meet two women – Tigist and Fayiza – who are part of an amazing new program using digital technology to improve the delivery of contraceptives and family planning services.  

With strong leadership and a commitment to community-based health services and family planning, Ethiopia has dramatically reduced child mortality and nearly doubled the prevalence of modern contraceptives in recent years.

Now, Ethiopia is on the leading edge of an innovative effort, using mobile phone technology, to ensure more women have access to voluntary family planning services and a broad range of contraceptive methods, close to where they live. 

Going door to door in communities across Ethiopia, a cadre of local women data collectors will interview women about their reproductive health, including contraceptive preferences and use. The responses are entered into mobile phones, and after a day of interviewing the data is uploaded to a cloud-based computer system. The data is available for immediate analysis, and is useful for identifying patterns of contraceptive use, maintaining adequate supplies in health clinics, and monitoring family planning information and services to ensure they are voluntary and high quality and achieving the intended impact. 

The effort is part of a broader program, known as PMA2020, that is using mobile technology to help 10 countries – eight in Africa and two in Asia – improve their family planning services. The Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University is leading the effort, with funding support from our foundation. 

Until now, the availability of nationally representative, population-based data to inform progress of family planning programs has been limited, generally coming from surveys done once every five years.  PMA2020 will generate valid estimates of contraceptive prevalence, quality of care, and other key indicators on an annual basis, which will allow countries to make evidence-based decisions about policies and programs on a schedule that more closely corresponds with annual planning cycles. 

PMA2020 will also enhance the work of family planning organizations, which can use the more up-to-date results to advocate for program improvements, which in turn will help countries such as Ethiopia achieve broader maternal, newborn, and child health goals. Most of all, I’m excited about this new effort because it will help ensure that all women and girls have the opportunity to realize their full potential.

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