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Study of SMS-based disease prevention in developing world highlights challenges and opportunities

mHealth Research Digest with Anupam Kumar

The developing world has seen an explosion in mobile phone coverage and usage over the past decade. These nations contribute the greatest number of mobile subscribers while adding at least 80% of new mobile users annually.

Millions of previously unconnected people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and other regions are now linked through information and communication technologies infrastructure. How to leverage these new connections towards the betterment of health is a topic that has unsurprisingly preoccupied the global public health community in recent years.

Although capabilities vary widely by device, short message service (SMS) is a globally standardized protocol available on the feature phones that predominate throughout most of the world.

While SMS is limited to 160 characters, the system allows for the delivery of messages to vast numbers of people in real time, making it an attractive venue for public health information delivery. The majority of research conducted on the efficacy of SMS based interventions on health promotion and disease prevention has focused on industrialized countries.

However, the developing world has also shown anecdotal successes in the field documented in a few published research articles. To summarize these findings, Déglise et al. aimed to review and describe the studies of SMS interventions for disease prevention that have been conducted in developing nations through a systematic review of peer-reviewed and gray literature published before May 2011.

Databases including PubMed, ScienceDirect, EBSCOhost, among others were searched using an extensive catalogue of search terms for peer-reviewed literature in English, French and German. Additionally, gray literature was located through online databases, contacts of the authors, proceedings of relevant conferences, and other public health sources; gray literature was included in the study as it is commonly used by public health professionals to inform decision-making.

Author:

Anupam Kumar

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