|Family planning is an important concept in the field of development for two reasons. First and foremost every human being has the right to access to information on the concept and to the means to practice it. Second, when family planning uptake is low, high fertility rates are seen and these have a negative influence on maternal and child health, economic development, public infrastructure and the environment. Uganda has the 5th highest birth rate in the world and has a high unmet need for family planning: 41% of the women that are sexually active do not want to get pregnant but do nothing to prevent it. Because of Uganda’s limited resources, effective yet inexpensive family planning interventions must be developed. Mobile phones are gaining popularity in the field of development as their use is increasing rapidly in developing countries. However, there has been little to no research on their use in the field of family planning, and research on the use of mobile phones in rural areas in general is scarce. The objective of this study was to gain a better understanding of the value of mobile phones as an information and communication channel in Uganda’s rural areas, and more specifically to influence family planning uptake.
The research took place in Hoima district, Western Uganda, both in Hoima town, a provincial town, and in the surrounding rural areas. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used: 15 health workers were interviewed, 140 surveys were done, half in town and half outside of town, and another 16 in-depth interviews were done with the local population.
The results revealed several reasons why people were not using contraceptives. Most of these can be addressed by providing people with information on the topic. This will increase awareness, address misconceptions, change negative attitudes, especially of men, decrease the wish for a large family and help understand side effects. In addition to giving information, access to and quality of services should be improved. Although radio is still the most popular communication channel for family planning information, due to its widespread accessibility, the phone competes with face-to-face contact for the second position. The phone is popular because it brings information to the people, it is accessible at any time and in any place, it is private and information (especially via messages) can be used to teach others. However, people also stress the need for personal advice and asking questions, and even though setting up a call centre could fulfil part of this need, face-to-face contact remains necessary. Access to mobile phones is limited by financial costs, limited access to electricity and literacy and language barriers, although these last ones are often overcome with help of friends. Access was found to be higher in town, among men, and, contrary to what is often described, lower for adolescents. However, of the entire research population, 65% had their own phone and 86.4% had phone access, so even in a rural population, phone use is widespread, and phones are a good way of reaching large groups of people.
All in all this research found that the mobile phone could definitely be used to increase awareness and knowledge on family planning, especially among men, so that more people can make an informed choice on whether they want to use family planning or not. However, other channels, like the radio and outreach activities should also be used to ensure that the entire population is reached. Furthermore quality and quantity of family planning services should be improved to make sure people can bring the decision they have made into practice.