In our efforts to increase capacity across the region for the improved management of Technology for Development initiatives, the Regional ICT team is hosting a series of WebEx sessions on relevant T4D topics including: tools and technology solutions, useful innovations for Programme challenges, and methodologies for project management.
For our first session, we were very pleased to have Erica Kochi from UNICEF’s Global Innovations unit in New York join us to explain the mHealth Framework. She was joined by a number of key partners who were involved in the mHealth Framework from its inception. The mHealth Framework has been developed in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization, and frog Design. The mHealth Framework is a tool for helping governments, donors, implementing partners or other stakeholders understand how to determine appropriate technology solutions for health interventions, and how mobile technologies can improve health outcomes. The framework aids practitioners in conceptualizing the larger “health system”, so that challenges, constraints, and key actors are better incorporated into project design and implementation. For more background on the mHealth Framework, please see this paper.
See below for the mHealth Framework.
Erica Kochi gave the introduction to the session, and discussed some of the opportunities in East Africa for integrating technology and innovation in design into health programming. mHealth aims to make connections and bridge gaps across the continuum of care, and the mHealth framework was developed, “somewhat organically,” she says, to guide practitioners in navigating this evolving space.
Peter Benjamin, who is Director of mHelp, the Capacity Building unit of the mHealth Alliance, gave us some background on mHealth and how it has evolved in the last few years. While mHealth has come a long way, there are still many challenges in health systems that mHealth, as a tool, is not yet able to solve. The challenges for mHealth solutions include improving interoperability, determining financially sustainable business models for scaling mHealth solutions, and improving the evidence to determine its tangible benefits. When it comes to scaling mHealth solutions, Peter emphasized that it is important to keep in mind the end-user, to plan for scale from the beginning, and to invest in evaluation so that lessons learned can be fed into future projects.
Alain Labrique is Director of mHealth Initiatives at Johns Hopkins University and focuses on Health Systems in Asia and East Africa. He discussed how mHealth technologies improve coverage of over-stretched health systems. Johns Hopkins and WHO have been working to develop a mHealth Taxonomy in order to standardize the language around mHealth interventions. Alain highlighted how using a common language will help practitioners identify complementary efforts and existing gaps. The mHealth Framework takes this one step further, by identifying and visualizing common constraints faced by actors in the system.
Garret Mehl conducts research on reproductive health and innovations for strengthening health systems at WHO. He took us through the different components of the mHealth Framework and gave examples of how it can be applied. The framework acts as a planning and communication tool, to help illustrate health projects to stakeholders and governments. It consists of validated interventions along the continuum of care (for now it focuses solely on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health), constraints and challenges, and possible mHealth applications (clustered by their different utilities). Garrett explained that the Framework allows for the “when, what, how and why a mHealth strategy is being deployed.”
Finally, Sean Blaschke (Health Systems Specialist, UNICEF Uganda) and Nick Oliphant (Health Specialist, UNICEF HQ) discussed their work on health systems strengthening at the Country Office level. Sean discussed the importance of working with government partners to implement national policies or strategies around the use of technology, and to focus on building the capacity of the Ministry of Health to manage and maintain a national health information system. He noted that one of the challenges to scaling mHealth initiatives can often be related to the enabling environment including legislative or regulatory frameworks. Nick has been spearheading work with the University of Oslo to prototype the new features of the DHIS2, or District Health Information System. DHIS2 is being rapidly adopted in over 40 countries, 20 of which are national deployments, and can easily be mapped onto the mHealth Framework.
Thank you to those of you who joined this session on the mHealth Framework. Once again, we’d like to extend huge appreciation to our presenters and to Erica Kochi for leading the call. In addition, all of the documents and presentations referenced during the session can be downloaded here:
Below are the two components of the framework from a blog post written by our friends at Global Innovation for UNICEF Stories a few months back. The visualizations and descriptions provide a helpful conceptualization of how the mHealth framework can be applied to strengthen health systems, and ultimately, improve access to health services.
- A place to depict the specifics of the mHealth intervention, described as one or more common mHealth or information and communications technology (ICT) applications used to target specific health system challenges or constraints within specific areas of the RMNCH continuum of care.
2. A visual depiction of mHealth implementation through the concept of ‘‘touch points,’’ or points of contact, which describe the specific mHealth interactions across health system actors (for example, clients, providers), locations (such as clinics or hospitals), and timings of interactions and data exchange.
In the coming weeks we will be sharing an edited version of the session for those who missed it. And stay tuned for more WebEx sessions in the future!