What do mobile phones and immunisation have in common? While it may not seem like there’s much, they actually go together pretty well. Being in the know with the latest gadgets and technologies is a given for any trend-setting youth, and most do whatever they can to protect these small devices from getting stolen, broken, or taken over by some virtual bug.
Even (if not especially) in the some of the most remote areas of Uganda, where availability of basic necessities such as water and electricity is dicey at best, mobile phones still somehow find their way into almost everyone’s pockets or purses.
Yet, when it comes to protecting their own bodies from nasty viruses and other bugs, many young people are not so up-to-date. In many areas of Uganda, especially the remote and hard-to-reach, awareness of immunisation and understanding of the importance of being fully vaccinated is not so widespread.
So, if most Ugandan youth already have mobile phones, how can we use this technology to share information and promote immunisation?
UNICEF Uganda developed an answer to that question through U-report, a mobile technology that uses SMS to initiate dialogue that stimulates citizen-led and youth-led development. Once users, known as U-reporters, sign up for the system, they are able to receive and respond to SMS messages for free.
At the touch of a button, U-reporters have the ability to learn new information and express their ideas and opinions in a way that sparks conversation and promotes action – even in the most remote districts of Uganda. The system also allows young people to contribute to issues that affect them in their communities as well as to receive feedback regarding their responses through social media, TV or radio announcements. Many Ugandan youth participate in U-report because their voice matters.
In a recent polio campaign targeting 37 Ugandan districts, U-report was used to gauge the impact of radio announcements that were broadcast nationally to raise awareness about immunisation drives. A poll question was sent out via SMS to find out how many U-reporters were aware of the dates of the polio campaign. In only one day, over 3,000 people responded to the poll. Compared to a previous poll, run before the radio campaign went on air, the new poll results revealed up to a 10 percent improvement in community awareness in at least 30 districts of Uganda.
Similar polls are being sent out to track awareness on activities around Africa Vaccination Week, which takes place from 22 – 27 April. In one of these polls U-reporters were asked whether they heard on the radio about immunisation and health services being offered during the month of April. Results from this poll help to reveal the reach and effectiveness of radio announcements as well as gaps in awareness of community health services offered around Africa Vaccination Week. Ongoing communication efforts can then focus on those areas of Uganda that are not getting the messages.
Imagine a poll about immunisation being conducted through the old fashioned door-to-door method. How many people would have been reached in one day? Maybe 40 or 50? Now imagine if youth all around the country were equipped with mobile phones and a tool like U-report.
Presently, through U-report, over 259,000 registered U-reporters in Uganda can be reached with a message or engaged in a dialogue in a short amount of time. The results so far are very promising; the numbers are growing; and we at UNICEF are constantly exploring how we can use this powerful network to mobilise communities, to share important public service information, and to monitor the effectiveness of our work.
For more information about U-Report, visit: http://www.ureport.ug/
Monica Morello is a Public Health Prevention Specialist. From February to May 2014 she is working as part of the Stop the Transmission of Polio (STOP) programme through CDC and WHO to support the Uganda Ministry of Health through UNICEF Uganda. As a STOP Communications Consultant, Ms. Morello has been working closely with the Communications for Development (C4D) Specialist at UNICEF Uganda to assist with programme communication and social mobilisation for polio eradication and routine immunisation.