Exploring the use of mobile phone technology for the enhancement of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV program in Nyanza, Kenya: a qualitative study

Larissa Jennings, John Ong'ech, Rogers Simiyu, Martin Sirengo, Seble Kassaye
BMC Public Health 2013, 13: 1131

BACKGROUND: Community-based mobile phone programs can complement gaps in clinical services for prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV in areas with poor infrastructure and personnel shortages. However, community and health worker perceptions on optimal mobile phone communication for PMTCT are underexplored. This study examined what specific content and forms of mobile communication are acceptable to support PMTCT.

METHODS: Qualitative methods using focus groups and in-depth interviews were conducted in two district hospitals in Nyanza Province, Kenya. A total of 45 participants were purposefully selected, including HIV-positive women enrolled in PMTCT, their male partners, community health workers, and nurses. Semi-structured discussion guides were used to elicit participants' current mobile phone uses for PMTCT and their perceived benefits and challenges. We also examined participants' views on platform design and gender-tailored short message service (SMS) messages designed to improve PMTCT communication and male involvement.

RESULTS: Most participants had access to a mobile phone and prior experience receiving and sending SMS, although phone sharing was common among couples. Mobile phones were used for several health-related purposes, primarily as voice calls rather than texts. The perceived benefits of mobile phones for PMTCT included linking with health workers, protecting confidentiality, and receiving information and reminders. Men and women considered the gender-tailored SMS as a catalyst for improving PMTCT male involvement and couples' communication. However, informative messaging relayed safely to the intended recipient was critical. In addition, health workers emphasized the continual need for in-person counseling coupled with, rather than replaced by, mobile phone reinforcement. For all participants, integrated and neutral text messaging provided antenatally and postnatally was most preferred, although not all topics or text formats were equally acceptable.

CONCLUSIONS: Given the ubiquity of mobile phones in Kenya and current health-related uses of mobile phones, a PMTCT mobile communications platform holds considerable potential. This pre-intervention assessment of community and health worker preferences yielded valuable information on the complexities of design and implementation. An effective PMTCT mobile platform engaging men and women will need to address contexts of non-disclosure, phone sharing, and linkages with existing community and facility-based services.

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