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    • Roch Nianogo with patient

Roch Nianogo

African Network for Health Education / Senegal

In many parts of the world there is growing interest in the use of mobile devices for health promotion – so-called mHealth initiatives. I spent the summer of 2012 in Dakar, Senegal, mapping and evaluating mHealth initiatives in six French-speaking countries of Africa (Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon and Cote d’ivoire) through an organization called Réseau Africain d’Education pour la Santé (RAES), or African Network for Health Education. RAES is a non-governmental organization whose mission is to strengthen health, education and citizenship programs in Africa through information and communications technology.

Roch NianogoWithin RAES, the research is part of a project called Djobi, whose aim is to address maternal and child health using mobile technologies through local community health insurance systems. More generally, our research sought to respond to a global need stemming from the lack of evidence-based knowledge and practice on the effectiveness and sustainability of mHealth initiatives. It also aimed at addressing the scarcity of information on mHealth initiatives being conducted in French-speaking African countries compared with those implemented in English-speaking countries. The RAES research group, which included personnel from UCLA and the World Health Organization, recruited and electronically surveyed approximately 30 mHealth initiatives throughout the six countries. The study is currently in the final stages of analysis and report writing.

It wasn’t easy. Communication with the disparately located study participants via email was difficult, and the absence of an updated contact directory hindered telephone contact. But this type of evaluation research is well worth the effort. Public health professionals must keep the discussion going by conducting studies of this sort and organizing summits. The RAES group is striving to inform countries, stakeholders and researchers on evidence-based best practices for mHealth so that they can be replicated and scaled up while avoiding wasteful duplication of ineffective initiatives.

The greatest public health lesson I learned from my experience at RAES is reflected in the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Building partnerships and forming multidisciplinary teams are the keys to producing meaningful change.

Roch Nianogo