Introduction of mobile phones for use by volunteer community health workers in support of integrated community case management in Bushenyi District, Uganda: development and implementation process.
BACKGROUND: A substantial literature suggests that mobile phones have great potential to improve management and survival of acutely ill children in rural Africa. The national strategy of the Ugandan Ministry of Health calls for employment of volunteer community health workers (CHWs) in implementation of Integrated Community Case Management (iCCM) of common illnesses (diarrhea, acute respiratory infection, pneumonia, fever/malaria) affecting children under five years of age. A mobile phone enabled system was developed within iCCM aiming to improve access by CHWs to medical advice and to strengthen reporting of data on danger signs and symptoms for acutely ill children under five years of age. Herein critical steps in development, implementation, and integration of mobile phone technology within iCCM are described.
METHODS: Mechanisms to improve diagnosis, treatment and referral of sick children under five were defined. Treatment algorithms were developed by the project technical team and mounted and piloted on the mobile phones, using an iterative process involving technical support personnel, health care providers, and academic support. Using a purposefully developed mobile phone training manual, CHWs were trained over an intensive five-day course to make timely diagnoses, recognize clinical danger signs, communicate about referrals and initiate treatment with appropriate essential drugs. Performance by CHWs and the accuracy and completeness of their submitted data was closely monitored post training test period and during the subsequent nine month community trial. In the full trial, the number of referrals and correctly treated children, based on the agreed treatment algorithms, was recorded. Births, deaths, and medication stocks were also tracked.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Seven distinct phases were required to develop a robust mobile phone enabled system in support of the iCCM program. Over a nine month period, 96 CHWs were trained to use mobile phones and their competence to initiate a community trial was established through performance monitoring.
CONCLUSION: Local information/communication consultants, working in concert with a university based department of pediatrics, can design and implement a robust mobile phone based system that may be anticipated to contribute to efficient delivery of iCCM by trained volunteer CHWs in rural settings in Uganda.
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