Posts tagged ‘research’

New Research Paper on Mobile Technologies for Health Workers

[Cross posting from the Digital Campus blog]

We have just had a research paper accepted and published on “Meeting community health worker needs for maternal health care service delivery using appropriate mobile technologies in Ethiopia”. The paper describes our approach and the technologies used in our recent project working with health extension workers in Ethiopia using mobile technologies for recording and managing maternal care visits. We anticipate that the results and approach outlined in this paper would be of great interest to others working in the field of mobile health.

The full open-access article can be found on the PlosOne website, and here is the abstract:


Mobile health applications are complex interventions that essentially require changes to the behavior of health care professionals who will use them and changes to systems or processes in delivery of care. Our aim has been to meet the technical needs of Health Extension Workers (HEWs) and midwives for maternal health using appropriate mobile technologies tools.


We have developed and evaluated a set of appropriate smartphone health applications using open source components, including a local language adapted data collection tool, health worker and manager user-friendly dashboard analytics and maternal-newborn protocols. This is an eighteen month follow-up of an ongoing observational research study in the northern of Ethiopia involving two districts, twenty HEWs, and twelve midwives.


Most health workers rapidly learned how to use and became comfortable with the touch screen devices so only limited technical support was needed. Unrestricted use of smartphones generated a strong sense of ownership and empowerment among the health workers. Ownership of the phones was a strong motivator for the health workers, who recognised the value and usefulness of the devices, so took care to look after them. A low level of smartphones breakage (8.3%,3 from 36) and loss (2.7%) were reported. Each health worker made an average of 160 mins of voice calls and downloaded 27Mb of data per month, however, we found very low usage of short message service (less than 3 per month).


Although it is too early to show a direct link between mobile technologies and health outcomes, mobile technologies allow health managers to more quickly and reliably have access to data which can help identify where there issues in the service delivery. Achieving a strong sense of ownership and empowerment among health workers is a prerequisite for a successful introduction of any mobile health program.

New research paper: Knowledge and performance of the Ethiopian health extension workers

Araya has just had his second paper published: “Knowledge and performance of the Ethiopian health extension workers on antenatal and delivery care: a cross-sectional study”. The full paper is available from Human Resources for Health, provisional abstract:


In recognition of the critical shortage of human resources within health services, community health workers have been trained and deployed to provide primary health care in developing countries. However, very few studies have investigated whether these health workers can provide good quality of care. This study investigated the knowledge and performance of health extension workers (HEWs) on antenatal and delivery care. The study also explored the barriers and facilitators for HEWs in the provision of maternal health care.


In conducting this research, a cross-sectional study was performed. A total of 50 HEWs working in 39 health posts, covering a population of approximately 195,000 people, were interviewed. Descriptive statistics was used and a composite score of knowledge of HEWs was made and interpreted based on the Ethiopian education scoring system.


Almost half of the respondents had at least 5 years of work experience as a HEW. More than half (27 (54%)) of the HEWs had poor knowledge on contents of antenatal care counseling, and the majority (44 (88%)) had poor knowledge on danger symptoms, danger signs, and complications in pregnancy. Health posts, which are the operational units for HEWs, did not have basic infrastructures like water supply, electricity, and waiting rooms for women in labor. On average within 6 months, a HEW assisted in 5.8 births. Only a few births (10%) were assisted at the health posts, the majority (82%) were assisted at home and only 20% of HEWs received professional assistance from midwives.


Considering the poor knowledge of HEWs, poorly equipped health posts, and poor referral systems, it is difficult for HEWs to play a key role in improving health facility deliveries, skilled birth attendance, and on-time referral through early identification of danger signs. Hence, there is an urgent need to design appropriate strategies to improve the performance of HEWs by enhancing their knowledge and competencies, while creating appropriate working conditions.

Research article published on role of HEWs

Araya, one of the PhD students from Ethiopia we have been working with for the last few years, has just this week had his first journal article published: “The role of health extension workers in improving utilization of maternal health services in rural areas in Ethiopia: a cross sectional study”. More details on BioMed Central or PubMed. Abstract:


Community health workers are widely used to provide care for a broad range of health issues. Since 2003 the government of Ethiopia has been deploying specially trained new cadres of community based health workers named health extension workers (HEWs). This initiative has been called the health extension program. Very few studies have investigated the role of these community health workers in improving utilization of maternal health services.


A cross sectional survey of 725 randomly selected women with under-five children from three districts in Northern Ethiopia. We investigated women’s utilization of family planning, antenatal care, birth assistance, postnatal care, HIV testing and use of iodized salt and compared our results to findings of a previous national survey from 2005. In addition, we investigated the association between several variables and utilization of maternal health services using logistic regression analysis.


HEWs have contributed substantially to the improvement in women’s utilization of family planning, antenatal care and HIV testing. However, their contribution to the improvement in health facility delivery, postnatal check up and use of iodized salt seem insignificant. Women who were literate (OR, 1.85), listened to the radio (OR, 1.45), had income generating activities (OR, 1.43) and had been working towards graduation or graduated as model family (OR, 2.13) were more likely to demonstrate good utilization of maternal health services. A model family is by definition a family which has fulfilled all the packages of the HEP.


The HEWs seem to have substantial contribution in several aspects of utilization of maternal health services but their insignificant contribution in improving health facility delivery and skilled birth attendance remains an important problem. More effort is needed to improve the effectiveness of HEWs in these regards. For example, strengthening HEWs’ support for pregnant women for birth planning and preparedness and referral from HEWs to midwives at health centers should be strengthened. In addition, women’s participation in income generating activities, access to radio and education could be targets for future interventions.

Serving two masters

In the past, I’ve worked on quite a number of research projects developing prototype software and web applications, where, due to the nature of the project (pilot/prototype/research) you never quite get the time to invest in making these systems as robust, well structured or documented as you’d like. Yet at the same time, a tension starts when there is a push to get these systems used in the real world, and they become to be treated as production level systems. No, it’s not quite that black and white, research projects need some real world testing to prove their worth and production systems will never be perfect.

With our new thin client labs and OpenSolaris server I feel we have a similar tension. On one side, these labs were a facility for us to try out new ICT policy and infrastructure for the university, for example, disabling flash devices, using university mail accounts, amongst many others. Yet at the same time, our lab is the only functioning lab available in the Engineering College. A review yesterday by the ECBP team, found that there was only one other lab (approx 30 PCs) which was functional and had relatively modern PCs (less than 5 years old) – but this lab isn’t yet networked (it’s in the computer science building – which, almost a year after being occupied by the department, still hasn’t been networked except recently for some of the staff offices). So there are 40 networked terminals available for a student population of over 2000. That’s a ratio of 1 terminal to 50 students in a college teaching engineering, technology and computing.

So we have a question of priorities, do we stick with the research goals and risk the labs not being usable due to the decision we’ve made (but then have something interesting to write up), or do we focus on providing students with a lab they are able to use effortlessly?

For me, it’s an easy decision to make. We must focus on providing a robust and reliable lab (contrary to the other labs) for the students to benefit from and not worry about the fact that they’re sharing passwords, using webmail rather than university mail accounts and the like. This doesn’t contradict some of the bigger research aspects we wanted to look into (e.g. demonstrating we can create a more robust and scalable architecture than the usual PC labs), but does mean that we very quickly needed to make compromises (such as allowing the use of flash drives) we didn’t want to have to make so soon.