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mHealth for Sexual and Reproductive Health

Heli Bathija
Director of GFMER Knowledge Management and Sharing

The GFMER initiative of mHealth for Sexual and Reproductive Health offers a unique opportunity to understand how mobile phones can be used to accelerate universal access to sexual and reproductive health and overcome barriers hindering such access. It consists of

  • Building capacities through an Online training course on Sexual and Reproductive mHealth.
  • Creating professional networks of those interested in mHealth approaches for Sexual and Reproductive Health to share learnings and best practices, including tactics and terms for negotiating contracts and striking mutually beneficial deals with operators and developers. This is to ensure not only global but also national level coordination and knowledge sharing.
  • Gathering country specific information on mHealth initiatives and projects on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Mobile and information and communications technology (ICT) strategies need to be grounded in country-level realities, needs and opportunities. MHealth for SRH initiatives should be tied directly to country-level health sector needs and priorities.
  • Sharing knowledge with a wider public through a database of research about Sexual and Reproductive mHealth.
  • Viewing mHealth through a “gender lens” and considering it from the psychosocial angle.

The platform of country specific data related to Sexual and Reproductive mHealth will be built in collaboration with the participants of the on-line training and with GFMER Country coordinators. Thus every participating country will have a platform where the implementation of mHealth for SRH is presented with on-going and achieved projects, local statistics and key actors. In creating this platform GFMER will work closely with other similar initiatives, such as HUB of the mHealth Alliance, mHealth Info of KIT and K4H.

GFMER will compile published research on Sexual and Reproductive mHealth and review also existing reports on the gender and psychosocial aspects of this field. This section will highlight the areas where there are already research publications, the gaps in the research conducted so far, and how the existing body of knowledge can be applied in the field.

Why mHealth?

Mobile health or mHealth refers to health‐related uses of mobile telecommunication and multimedia technologies within health service delivery and public health systems. Mobile phone use continues to rise rapidly in whole world, especially the poorest areas that have not been reached before. Because mHealth eliminates distance barriers and improves access to medical services, it has a huge potential for low-income nations. It may help especially hard-to-reach populations due to its capacity to use wireless technology.

mHealth has the potential to surpass chasms caused by poverty, ignorance, lack of education and resources. It may empower and give a voice to people who already know the solutions but who are not heard. mHealth can add knowledge and especially give new prospects to implement it.  Through mHealth those in power can have new perspective and new tools to fight the persistent problems.

mHealth is a new way to achieve desired outcomes. Using mobile phones for collecting real-time ( or almost) health data helps policymakers and the public to become more aware of health risks, governments response better to health needs, health workers make better treatment decisions and hospitals provide higher quality and safer care. 

Disseminating health care information to patients and general public through a very personal tool such as mobile phone makes it possible to make informed choices for their own better health.

Local and national information systems support the development of appropriate, evidence-based, and effective health systems, remote monitoring of patients helps to provide clinical health care from distance.

MHealth has many challenges. While mHealth can dramatically transform the way in which people can receive health information and manage their own care, mHealth initiatives tend to include very little coordination across funders and implementers. However, coordination is important, for example to ensure that health workers don’t end up with multiple phones required for different applications. National standards need to be set up  so that health systems can minimize redundancies. Unfortunately, in some cases where countries have endeavored to develop national standards and a way to integrate systems, these efforts have often been challenged by legacy systems and variation in national and donor requirements.

Why sexual and reproductive health?

Reproductive and sexual health is fundamental to individuals, couples and families, and the social and economic development of communities and nations. However, hundreds of thousands of women die every year of SRH related problems that could be easily prevented. Factors commonly associated with these deaths are the absence of skilled health personnel during childbirth, lack of services able to provide emergency obstetric care and deal with the complications of unsafe abortion, and ineffective referral systems.

In most countries, taboos and norms about sexuality (including practices such as child marriage, female genital mutilation and early sexual initiation) pose strong barriers to providing the information, reproductive health services and other forms of support that young people need to be healthy.

In addition to the barriers that poor and other disadvantaged people face in accessing health services generally, such as distance from services, lack of transport, cost of services and discriminatory treatment of users, reproductive health presents special difficulties. These derive from social and cultural factors such as taboos surrounding reproduction and sexuality, women’s lack of decision-making power related to sex and reproduction, low values placed on women’s health, and negative or judgmental attitudes of family members and health-care providers.

mHealth is a tool that can be used in addressing many of the barriers described above. There are, nevertheless, different obstacles to implementing mHealth for sexual and reproductive health as well as valid questions about its effectiveness that shall be examined as a part of this initiative.

Heli Bathija
Director of GFMER Knowledge Management and Sharing


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