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AKU registers improved immunization coverage in underserved areas.

Customized m-health messages communicated to underserved areas of Sindh through Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system led to a 26 per cent increase in vaccine uptake, revealed a study conducted by researchers of Aga Khan University.

According to the details issued by the AKU communication department, the exercise with the theme 'Paigham e Sehat' comprised a randomized controlled trial spanning over 3,300 households in rural and urban areas of Sindh.

Finding of which was said to had highlighted the usefulness of SMS and voice campaigns, targeted at parents and caregivers of infants, in increasing vaccine coverage in underserved areas. Sindh with one of the lowest rates of routine immunisation in Pakistan with seven out of ten children at risk of contracting preventable, and often fatal, diseases such as diphtheria, pertussis and hepatitis B.

Since 97 per cent of the province's population owns a mobile phone, text and voice messages was said to represent an accessible and low-cost means to promote access to lifesaving vaccines in line with targets under Goal 3 of the sustainable development goals.

The Paigham-e-Sehat, a message of health, study saw researchers from Aga Khan University and the University of British Columbia partner with digital health and telecommunications specialists to develop a variety of mobile campaigns containing targeted messages on immunization for rural and urban audiences in the province. The study found that automated messages, delivered through an interactive voice response (IVR) system, delivered a 26 per cent increase in vaccine coverage, substantially higher than three other interventions and a control group which did not show a statistically significant increase in immunization uptake.

Local insights were said to be incorporated in the study's design through the help of focus groups. The focus groups showed that Sindhi was the language of choice for citizens in interior Sindh while text messages in Roman Urdu (Urdu written in English) would be more effective for those living in Karachi.

Since only a fifth of all households enrolled in the study had access to a smartphone, text messages were written with feature phones in mind. Health messages also reflected local views on the most effective content for the audience. These ranged from information on the health benefits of vaccines, religious considerations (vaccinations are compulsory for those undertaking Hajj and Umrah) to warnings on the adverse effects of avoiding immunization.

These messages were then delivered through four different mediums to generate evidence on the most effective means to boost demand for routine immunization. Participants in the study were also consequently divided into four different groups, one of which received a one-way series of SMS messages providing information on the benefits of immunization.

The second group got an interactive sequence of SMS texts allowing the user to text back for more information while the third one received a one-way schedule of 'robocalls' where the user listens to a pre-recorded voice message after picking up a all.

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Publication:Pakistan Observer (Islamabad, Pakistan)
Date:Sep 10, 2019
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