health sector communication
Communication is key when it comes to developing a well-performing healthcare system. Ineffective communication within healthcare systems “increases the likelihood of negative patient outcomes,” overall costs for healthcare systems, and “patient utilization of inpatient and emergency care.” Meanwhile, sound health sector communication ensures the maintenance of overall health and helps prevent diseases and premature death. Thus, it is important to ensure that healthcare systems across the globe are well equipped and supported. Recent developments in mobile technologies have made it easier to do so and transformed health-sector communication in several countries.


A recently developed mobile application, called mHERO, has become one of the latest mobile applications to demonstrate the powerful and wide-reaching role that technology plays in health-sector communication. Created in 2014 by IntraHelath International and UNICEF, mHERO is a mobile-based application used by healthcare workers and ministries of health in order to communicate and coordinate effectively and efficiently. The application was developed during the 2014 Liberian Ebola outbreak after recognizing the need for a way to communicate urgent messages to frontline healthcare workers, to collect data concerning outbreaks development, and to provide support and training.

Messages sent through the application are transmitted through basic text or SMS. The app is compatible with most cellular devices. By merging existing health information systems, such as Integrated Human Resources Information System (iHRIS) and Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR), with popular communication platforms, such as RapidPro, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, mHERO acts as a cost-efficient, accessible and sustainable resource for many healthcare systems.

Implementation in Liberia 2014

The 2014 West African Ebola outbreak overwhelmed the Liberian healthcare sector. The absence of effective communication channels blocked the supply of vital information from health officials to health workers. UNICEF and IntraHealth International created mHERO to address the communication challenge. The application was initially designed to suit the needs of the Liberian healthcare system, utilizing the technology that was already available in the country. It then became the responsibility of the ministry of health to effectively manage and maintain the application’s implementation and its continued use.

Liberia utilized mHERO to validate healthcare facility data, to update health workers and to track which facilities need additional resources. Today, health officials use mHero to coordinate the country’s response to COVID-19. mHERO has become an integral part of the Liberian healthcare system, maintaining a vital role in health-sector communication.

Development and Reach

Guinea, Mali and Sierra Leone followed Liberia’s lead with the mHero integration process. The implementation guidelines and intent of use in these countries have generally remained the same as Liberia’s. Mali, however, has implemented the application with a need to train and develop the skills of healthcare workers.

Uganda, as of 2020, has also incorporated mHERO into its healthcare system with the intent of reducing the spread of COVID-19. The application has allowed for easier COVID-19-related communication between ministries of health, health officials and healthcare workers.

Uganda employes a developed form of the application with an extension called FamilyConnect. The extension sends “targeted lifecycle messages via SMS to pregnant mothers, new mothers, heads of household and caregivers about what they need to do to keep babies and mothers safe in the critical first 1,000 days of life” as long as they have been registered with the Ministry of Health’s Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH). Mothers can register themselves or can choose to have registration done by a community health worker.

Future Plans

UNICEF and IntraHealth International want to expand access to mHERO. Counties in East and West Africa have indicated an interest in implementing the application. UNICEF and IntraHealth International intend to continue to support the ministries of health and healthcare systems in which mHERO has already been implemented. They also hope to find new ways to encourage ministries of health “to understand the interoperability of the technology, the processes for implementation and best practices to using mHero data.”

Overall, mHERO has substantially improved health-sector communication within several countries, proving the application’s potential for revolutionizing health-sector communication throughout the world. Developments can be made to expand the application’s capabilities and reach, as proven in Uganda. The application is a sustainable and cost-efficient resource for healthcare systems and helps reduce the chances of premature death along with the spread of diseases and misinformation. It provides crucial support to healthcare workers, especially during times of epidemics, increasing the overall quality of healthcare and life.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

mobile phone developmentWith simple communication, monitoring and data collection, the full capabilities of mobile phone technology in developing countries are being put to work. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of mobile phone development in developing countries.


Monitoring and regular, real-time updates on the conditions of everything from crops to the spread of disease are a huge help for organizations dedicated to mobile development. Farmers can use a wireless sensing network (WSN) to monitor crop and soil conditions as well as irrigation systems for better water management. Simple, inexpensive and low-powered sensing nodes communicate information directly to farmers’ mobile devices. Farmers can also use their mobile devices to check and monitor rising and falling market prices.

In 2013, UNICEF partnered with Ugandan farmers to track and monitor the spread of banana bacterial wilt, a disease that threatens bananas, one of Uganda’s major food staples. Through mobile phone polling, UNICEF was able to map the areas of farmland where bananas were infected and bring that vital information directly to farmers.

Health workers are also utilizing mobile monitoring particularly to track and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD) is a data collection software used to record incidents of communicable disease. Health departments in Thailand and Cambodia have piloted an early warning disease surveillance initiative. Using SMS, InSTEDD has been used to track diseases at the local and national level. Health officials hope that the use of such mobile development will help them track, prevent and prepare for potential disease outbreaks.

Communication and Information Delivery

SMS provides a cheap and fast means of communication. Although a very basic messaging service, it is compatible with even the cheapest mobile phones. Even this simple text service is being put to work to improve lives around the world. In 2014, IntraHealth International and UNICEF created mHero, a two-way mobile phone-based communication system. Using SMS, ministries of health exchange real-time information and data with health workers in the field. This timely flow of communication helps health workers perform better-informed care and provides them with reliable support.

Rapid communication is also being used to alert residents in Bangalore, India to water availability. In Bangalore, people may have to wait up to 10 days for water to be available. NextDrop is a phone-based program that uses text messaging to notify residents when their water will next be available. With 75,000 registered users, NextDrop communicates vital, timely information about the water availability, so that residents need not waste their days waiting.

Data Collection

Polling, surveys and civilian reports have long been used to supply organizations with information about the populations they are serving to provide better and more efficient aid. Mobile phones reduce the need for face-to-face interviews to collect data as well as cut costs of landline calls, allowing health workers to reach more people in less time. With larger pools of responders, health surveys inform officials of a more complete summary of the population. The Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) is a global survey project with the goal of providing women and girls with access to modern contraceptive methods by 2020. Through household surveys, PMA2020 collects fertility data to estimate the total fertility rate of a given country.

UNICEF created their own reporting system using mobile devices called U-Report. This messaging and reporting tool empowers users to speak out about issues that matter most to them. Active in 53 countries and with more than 6 million users, U-Report has been used to engage in issues from employment discrimination to child marriage. Data is then shared with policymakers so that they can make informed decisions. U-Report can be used with multiple messaging services including SMS so that even users with basic mobile phones can participate. The service is free and anonymous to encourage as many users as possible to report. UNICEF utilized U-Report’s messaging system to send alerts to users living in the path of Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria and using SMS shared vital information with families during the major floods in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

With the help of mobile devices, almost every corner of the world is reachable, from the poor living in the largest cities to the most rural communities. Aid organizations are making vital use out of the communication and data collection capabilities to help those who are most in need. Mobile development is helping to ensure that everyone has the tools and information to make informed decisions, ask for assistance, and pull themselves out of poverty.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr

fight_ebolaThe Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues remains a major public health concern worldwide. In the face of this tragedy, technology provides great hope in managing the disease and providing aid to individuals and healthcare providers. Many technologies are on the forefront of fighting disaster, but the most valuable tool to fight Ebola is probably in your pocket.

Africa has experienced a boom in cell phone ownership in recent years, which has extended to West Africa. As a result, cell phones are providing patients and families of patients with services such as ebola hotlines. Cell phones also allow health workers to be paid electronically, allow clinics to flag when they’re low on supplies and allow individuals to resolve rumors of ebola by texting local radio stations.

Eric King, an innovation specialist who worked with USAID’s Disaster Assistance Response Team in Liberia, said, “among the technological tools that have amplified the Ebola response, arguably none has been more helpful than the mobile phone.”

And it’s not just helpful for individuals. Cell phone companies collect “call data records,” which manage caller identity and the time of the call, along with being able to identify the customer’s location. These records, held by CDRs, are highly valuable to epidemiologists.

But cell phones have been most valuable in fighting Ebola in the hands of health care workers. The mHero program uses information to bring together people making a difference in coordinating a response to this crisis.

The mHero program brings cell phones together with many services. These services include the iHRIS program, a human resource tracking service used within the health sector of 19 countries, along with UNICEF’s SMS platform and information sharing systems such as OpenHIE and DHIS 2.

The mHero programs bring all of this together to allow key text messages to be sent to heath workers internationally, even in remote areas where there is traditionally less access to cell phone service. Having access to this large database of information allows for messages to be targeted to health workers in relevant locations.

According to intrahealth, mHero is also useful to government officials, who can use it to conduct monitoring processes along with data analysis and surveys. The service, which launched in Liberia in September, represents perhaps a major victory in the fight against Ebola.

Information is power. Cell phones are an accessible technology which provide people worldwide with information. It should be no surprise, then, that cell phones are an incredible source of power in responding to the Ebola crisis.

Andrew Michaels

Sources: Intrahealth, Harvard, The Economist, USAID
Photo: Empower Magazine

With more and more people in danger of contracting Ebola, officials believe that information is key to preventing the spread of the disease. Mobile phones and new technologies such as mHero (Health Worker Electronic Response and Outreach) are now playing a big role in the fight against Ebola.

Even in some of the poorest regions, many people have access to mobile phones. Because of the presence of mobile phone users, data scientists believe that this may be the easiest and most efficient way to distribute health information to people in West Africa. Officials are now using phones to collect activity data from citizens in disease-prone areas.

Mobile data allows organizations like the CDC to determine where citizens are making the most health service calls and therefore the best locations to assemble treatment centers. The data has also helped officials with traveler screening in order to prevent the spread of Ebola.

Additionally, user data has played a large role in helping to track population movements and foresee how the virus might spread. In the past, analysts only had access to on-the-ground surveys and police and hospital reports to determine the movement of diseases. However, mobile data has been a tremendous help in tracking Ebola and predicting its movement. Many believe that this is the most effective way to keep Ebola contained.

mHero is a new form of communication for Ministry of Health personnel that uses mobile phones to send important information to healthcare workers. The system works by releasing text message reports on Ebola diagnosis, treatment and prevention in addition to caretaker safety information. mHero also allows those working on the frontline and in remote areas to stay in contact and receive important Ebola updates.

mHero provides instantaneous access to health workforce data such as mobile phone numbers. “Officials can use mHero to conduct real-time monitoring, complex multi-path surveys and detailed analyses,” says IntraHealth Technical Advisor, Amanda Puckett. mHero launched in Liberia last month and currently has over 8,000 Ministry of Health members connected through its system.

Healthcare workers are also beginning to use mobile phones for interactive voice response technology. Systems such as these allow for higher user content limits and also provide solutions for literacy and language barriers that many healthcare workers face in foreign nations.

Mobile phones and technology are extremely beneficial tools that have been helping citizens and healthcare workers in the fight against Ebola. Researchers hope that this technology combined with other current methods will help to prohibit the spread of the virus and to provide infected patients with necessary care.

– Meagan Douches

Sources: The Guardian, VITAL, BBC