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Mobile technology innovations greatly strengthen accountability for results to children

© UNICEF Uganda/2016/Adriko

By Proscovia Nakibuuka Mbonye

KAMPALA, Uganda, 2 February 2016 - On a recent mission to Uganda to more deeply understand how mobile technology innovations are helping to achieve better results for children, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Mr. Omar Abdi, has urged all stakeholders to embrace such innovations to increase accountability for results to children. 
 
“Without a doubt, the mobile technology innovations that have been invested in here in Uganda, are greatly helping to measure our progress along the results chain,” he said.  “We have now gone past the time of questioning the value of mobile technology innovations and must ask ourselves how these systems can be best used to strengthen results for children, especially those who are hardest to reach.”
 
Since 2010, UNICEF, together with its partners in Uganda, have introduced several mobile technology innovations that are helping ensure children, regardless of where they are, have access to basic services like education, health, and birth registration, among others.
 
Mr. Abdi received a briefing on the various UNICEF Uganda Country Office innovations that are currently strengthening accountability and accelerating results for children – including mTrac, eduTrac, Mobile VRS, U-Report and, the newest innovative system, uSurvey - and went to the field to witness some of them in practice.

At Church of Uganda Hospital, in Mukono District, Central Uganda, he observed registration of children using the web-based Mobile Vital Records System (Mobile VRS), a UNICEF-supported innovation used by hospitals to instantly register children’s births and issue birth certificates. At this hospital, Mobile VRS, which was introduced in late 2013, has successfully registered between 50-60 percent of all babies born at the hospital.

“We get all the initial data instantly meaning we have the capacity to register births and issue birth certificates right away in real time; our main challenge, however, has been the delay of naming the newly born babies by their parents or guardians,” said Christopher Kato, the Hospital’s Monitoring and Evaluation Officer.  “Traditionally, children here are given names by their grandparents which takes some few days or even up to one week, which means the challenge of immediate birth registration is now exclusively with the family practice of naming children.”
 
He further noted that when children are not registered, they can miss out on accessing basic services such as health and education and that knowing the age of a child is essential to protecting him/her from child labour, early marriage, trafficking and joining armed forces.
 
At Nakifuma Health Centre III, in Mukono District, Mr. Abdi witnessed the use and impact of m-Trac in improving delivery of quality health services to communities.
 
Dr. Elly Tumushabe, the District Director General of Health Services, noted that since the introduction of mTrac in 2012, stock outs of vital medicines have been easily identified by managers for quick action, including intra-allocations between health centers and notification to National Medical Stores.
 
Instant Data Collection

Apart from his field trip, the preliminary results from a Female Genital Mutilation survey using the new uSurvey tool – a mobile-based survey data collection tool that interacts with the user through a mobile phone and has in-built automated data capture and summarization capabilities - were also presented to the Deputy Executive Director.
 
Conducted over 14 days in early January and covering 4,600 households, the uSurvey tool enabled UNICEF and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) to obtain real-time data that allowed for a presentation of preliminary results just three days after the field work was completed.  
 
“Having preliminary results of an official Government survey within one week of the field work being completed, and the potential to officially release the data after only one month of the completion of the field work, is unprecedented,” said Mr. Abdi.
 
Key attributes of the uSurvey tool include: much shorter time lag between survey data collection and results release; higher levels of geographical disaggregation of data; cost effectiveness; and, with greatly reduced transcription errors, higher data accuracy.
 
“This tool is yet another example of how mobile technology innovations can revolutionize our work and greatly strengthen accountability for children, particularly for those children in hard-to-reach places who, with tools like uSurvey, we are now able to get detailed disaggregated data on.”
 
“We should now take all of these innovative systems to national scale to deliver even more focused and impactful results for children in Uganda,” he noted at the conclusion of his mission.
 
As part of its new 2016-2020 Country Programme, UNICEF Uganda will deepen the use and integration of its mobile technology innovations to strengthen service delivery to all children, especially the most marginalized.
 
 
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Key Mobile Technology Innovations in Uganda
 
uSurvey: uSurvey is a mobile-based survey data collection tool that is web-based, interacts with the user through a mobile phone and has in-built automated data capture and summarization capabilities.  UNICEF and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) developed the system to source high-frequency data for both official surveys and rapid assessments.  The system has been designed to collect a wide range of data and to generate and produce descriptive statistics and graphical representation of the collected information whenever desired, including during the process of data collection. The tool can be used for any households survey (ie DHS, MICS etc) and is being piloted in six districts.
 
mTrac:–eHealth Management Information System: mTrac is a government-led initiative to digitize the transfer of Health Management Information System (HMIS) data via mobile phones to 41,477 health workers and 4,413 health facilities. The focus of mTrac is to speed up the transfer of weekly health surveillance reports (covering notifiable diseases, maternal and neonatal deaths and medicines); allow local government to communicate with and survey health workers; and empower District Health Teams by providing timely information for action. There is also a toll-free SMS Anonymous Health Service Delivery Complaints Hotline, which enables citizens to report on health service delivery issues they are encountering for the Ministry of Health to immediately take action on.  In 2013, the African Development Bank recognized mTrac as one of the top 10 health innovations of the year.
 
FamilyConnect: FamilyConnect is a mobile phone-based system that sends key messages via SMS to pregnant women and new mothers on actions they should take to ensure the health of both themselves and their babies in the critical first thousand days of life (from conception to age two); it also sends SMS’ to health workers on key follow-up actions they should provide to new mothers.
 
eduTrac: A collaboration between UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports (MoESTS), EduTrac is an SMS-based data collection system that tracks education issues such as teacher absenteeism, violence against children, water point and latrine functionality in schools as well as school budget allocations. The data collected informs education policy and programme planning as well as programs with development partners.
 
Uganda Mobile Vital Records System (MVRS): Mobile VRS is a web and mobile-based system developed through a public-private partnership between UNICEF, Uganda Telecom and the Ugandan Registration Services Bureau, to allow health workers and local government officials to report births with simple verification and printing of certificates at the sub-District level.  To date, nearly 2.5 million births have been registered through Mobile VRS, which has contributed to an increase in the national birth registration rate for children under five years of age from 30% in 2011 (UDHS 2011) to an estimated 68% by the end of December 2015.
 
U-Report: Designed and deployed in early 2011, U-report is a free SMS-based platform that enables citizens to report on issues affecting both themselves and their communities as well as to get real-time feedback and information on new initiatives or campaigns. U-Report has an active community of 308,317 members that is growing by 150-250 people every day with many of these being influential agents-of-change within their communities. Under the category of m-Government and Participation, U-report Uganda was one of the forty 2015 World Summit Award winners for Mobile Innovation with Social Impact.  U-report in Uganda is now featuring in a Civic Engagement/Social Accountability for Child Rights programme that aims to fully operationalize the new third Optional Protocol of the CRC.

 

 
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