UNICEF deploys new digital data collection tool to bolster COVID-19 response

RapidPro helps field workers, including frontline health workers share data via SMS in real time

Abdoulie Sey
A health workers focuses on his phone
UNICEF/UN03301/Abdoulie
25 August 2020

Amid COVID-19 and the need for timely data to understand trends and inform decision making, UNICEF The Gambia has rolled out RapidPro, a digital information monitoring platform. RapidPro is an innovative tool designed to collect information by sending bulk SMS text messages to designated recipients who will then provide feedback in real time.

The technology opens new communication channels among local authorities, health workers, and community members that could immensely improve social accountability, programme performance, and community feedback loops. With RapidPro, field workers can share real time information about their work via text message, at no cost.

“It is a gamechanger,” said Rene Ekpini, UNICEF The Gambia Acting Representative. “RapidPro is here to enhance service delivery even in the remotest parts of the country and in the most unusual of times. With RapidPro, service providers have even better capacity to ensure that more people have access to services even in the face of major disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic”.

UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health of The Gambia to collect data from frontline workers about COVID-19 response – information about people who have been sensitized on COVID-19 prevention and response – across the country. The data is then analyzed and monitored to enable the health ministry and partners to better plan and coordinate national response efforts.

“Now more than ever, we must work together to support the country’s health sector especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rene said. “We must also make sure that essential services, including at all health facilities, are not disrupted during the pandemic. And that is what RapidPro is here to enhance”.

RapidPro was rolled out in The Gambia in May 2020 with the first poll focusing on risk communication and community engagement on COVID-19. The poll measured the number of people who were reached by field workers with COVID-19 messages. Data collected from health workers via RapidPro has been instrumental in helping the government and partners focus more on supporting local authorities to lead the COVID-19 response in their various regions and communities.

“At Health Promotion and Education Directorate, we are using RapidPro to collect information on COVID-19 indicators,” said Modou Njie, Director of Health Promotion and Education, Ministry of Health. “After sending out our first information request, we were very impressed and excited with the system as it proves very efficient and effective in generating information so rapidly.”

Since the first poll, two others have been sent to health and local officials in the regions. And two polls were sent to education officials as the government contemplated reopening of schools.

“The use of RapidPro also saves us a lot of time and energy in accessing information from field level,” Modou said. “As such, I would recommend widespread use of RapidPro by all programs, departments, and units within the Ministry of Health for efficient and effective service delivery.”