Cell phones and other mobile devices are being used to improve vaccine coverage and data collection by a growing number of immunization programs in the Region of the Americas, according to a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) expert on immunization.
PAHO/WHO is collecting examples of these experiences as part of its efforts to promote exchange of information and best practices in ‘mHealth’ among its member countries, said PAHO/WHO Immunization Advisor Dr. Carolina Danovaro in a presentation to the mHealth Working Group, which met at PAHO/WHO headquarters on Nov. 18.
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the United States and Uruguay are among the countries in the Americas that are using devices such as personal digital assistants (PDAs) and mobile phones in their immunization programs. The countries are at different stages in their use of these technologies, ranging from pilot projects focused on improving management of the vaccine cold chain and supplies, to comprehensive electronic patient records systems.
Mobile technologies have proven useful in allowing health care workers to record vaccine doses at the time of delivery or to report suspected adverse events at the time of detection, thereby reducing delays and errors that are common in manual/paper reporting systems. Text messaging is being used to send parents reminders about upcoming vaccine appointments or missed or delayed doses.
Among the demonstrated benefits of using mobile technologies in immunization, said Danovaro, are:
- Improved collection of data for surveillance and planning through better quality and timeliness of reporting.
- More effective individualized follow-up of immunization schedules.
- Enhanced monitoring of events supposedly attributable to vaccines and immunization (ESAVI).
- More accessible training and continuing education.
Participants in the mHealth meeting noted that there are some important challenges to the use of mobile technologies in immunization. These include the relatively short life of mobile technologies, which can make it difficult to plan and fully implement projects before a given technology becomes obsolete. Others noted that some health care workers may resist adopting new, unfamiliar technologies. Danovaro said that, to address this issue, implementation strategies need to include hands-on, participatory training for those in the field.
Also during the meeting, PAHO Knowledge Transfer Specialist Ana Lucia Ruggerio presented the new regional Strategy and Plan of Action on eHealth, approved by ministers of health from throughout the Americas during PAHO’s Directing Council meeting in September.
The mHealth Working Group is a collaborative forum for sharing and synthesizing knowledge on the use of mobile technologies in health. It seeks to frame mobile technology within a larger global health strategy, applying public health standards and practices and promoting approaches that are appropriate, evidence-based, interoperable and scalable in resource-poor settings. Facilitated and supported by the K4Health Project, the group has more than 500 members representing over 150 organizations worldwide.
The mHealth Working Group holds regular meetings in Washington, D.C., to discuss promising approaches, challenges, and lessons learned. Meetings from previous meeting and more information about the group are on the mHealth Toolkit page. Those interested in receiving future announcements may join the listserv at knowledge-gateway.org/mhealth.