Effectiveness of mHealth behavior change communication interventions in developing countries: a systematic review of the literature

Tilly A Gurman, Sara E Rubin, Amira A Roess
Journal of Health Communication 2012, 17 Suppl 1: 82-104
Mobile health (mHealth) technologies and telecommunication have rapidly been integrated into the health care delivery system, particularly in developing countries. Resources have been allocated to developing mHealth interventions, including those that use mobile technology for behavior change communication (BCC). Although the majority of mobile phone users worldwide live in the developing world, most research evaluating BCC mHealth interventions has taken place in developed countries. The purpose of this study was to conduct a systematic review of the literature to determine how much evidence currently exists for mHealth BCC interventions. In addition to analyzing available research for methodological rigor and strength of evidence, the authors assessed interventions for quality, applying a set of 9 standards recommended by mHealth experts. The authors reviewed 44 articles; 16 (36%) reported evaluation data from BCC mHealth interventions in a developing country. The majority of BCC mHealth interventions were implemented in Africa (n = 10) and Asia (n = 4). HIV/AIDS (n = 10) and family planning/pregnancy (n = 4) were the health topics most frequently addressed by interventions. Studies did not consistently demonstrate significant effects of exposure to BCC mHealth interventions on the intended audience. The majority of publications (n = 12) described interventions that used two-way communication in their message delivery design. Although most publications described interventions that conducted formative research about the intended audience (n = 10), less than half (n = 6) described targeting or tailoring the content. Although mHealth is viewed as a promising tool with the ability to foster behavior change, more evaluations of current interventions need to be conducted to establish stronger evidence.

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