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Mobile Phone - an Effective Tool for Enhancing Community Health Systems
Source: Public Agenda
Source Date: Monday, November 28, 2011
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: Ghana
Created: Dec 01, 2011

In the midst of the current transport and other logistical constraints facing the health sector in Ghana, effective communication has been noted as a key factor for enhancing referral and emergency medical services as well as improving the general performance of other aspects of the health system in the country, particularly in rural communities. Under normal circumstances this should not be a problem for Ghana, considering the good coverage of mobile phone services in the country. However, mobile phone penetration into the hinterlands of Ghana has yet to resolve all and especially health communication problems. The major challenge which has been identified along the way is affordability. In rural northern Ghana, mobile phone and its use are still greatly considered a luxury for a larger proportion of the population. Here, to use or not to use a mobile phone is purely an economic reason rather than the ability to operate as some people suggest. In most communities in the Upper East Region, it is common to find various categories of people including the young, the old, men, women, the literate and illiterates using phones. Interestingly, phone usage is quite high among the youth and apparently lower for the age group 40 and above, particularly for women. This trend of mobile phone usage in the region has not offered a full opportunity for the Ghana Health Service (GHS) and other health service providers to build a strong communication network through the many community health volunteers and Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) to help eliminate the "communication factor". This deficiency continues to account for delays in emergency medical services, particularly for maternal and child health care. It is in this respect that I find the distribution of mobile phones and recharge cards to TBAs by OXFAM and ISODEC, a heart warming initiative. Their effort which comes to augment the Mobile Phone Technology for Community Health (MoTecH), a program being implemented by the regional health directorate in selected districts, is a laudable one. The OXFAM/ISODEC mobile phone distribution initiative forms part of a maternal and child health care project known as the Top Project which is funded by OXFAM and implemented by ISODEC in collaboration with two Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and the Ghana Health Service. Four communities in the Upper East Region namely Gia and Naaga in the Kasena Nankana West District, and Sumbrungu and Zuarango in the Bolgatanga Municipality are benefiting from the project. The Top project aims at plugging some of the gaps in maternal health care delivery in the country in order to help reduce the high maternal mortality rate. At a project review meeting recently held in Bolgatanga it was refreshing to learn how the support and training of Community Health Committees (CHCs) and TBAs for rights-based advocacy and education help address some of the negative attitudes and cultural barriers which have hitherto hindered acceptability and access of orthodox health care services. The TBAs and CHCs took on critical issues such as taboos that prevented women and children from eating meat, the attitude of women not wanting to deliver at health facilities, the "Landlord is not in the house" factor, among other things. In a region where 80% of the people live in hard to reach rural communities, the role of TBAs and community health volunteers such as CHCs and mobiles remain crucial in ensuring that essential health services and education reach the people. And such efforts as the collaboration between OXFAM/ISODEC and the Ghana Health Service certainly inspire and make one to look into the future of health care delivery in the Upper East Region and the nation at large, particularly maternal and child health, with some optimism.
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