Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Makerere University researchers have found that more males can seek reproductive health information if innovations such as telemedicine are embraced.
In a study in which researchers at the School of Statistics and Planning were assessing the impact of telehealth services in supporting the continuity of family planning information, access and utilization amidst COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, they found one in every five respondents started using family planning for the first time through the telehealth intervention.
Dr Allen Kabagenyi, the Principal Investigator on the study says they contacted over 250,000 users of telehealth services subscribed to the Medical Concierge Group, a digital health company, of which 1,065 users agreed to receive family planning messages on their phones.
75% of the participants who sought the service were males asking for reproductive health-related information, something that came off as a surprise considering that in normal health facility settings, the service is almost exclusively sought by females.
She says the majority of the males called making inquiries on side effects of certain contraceptives whereas some were asking for referrals to the best health facilities that can offer the service.
Telehealth which involves the delivery of healthcare, health education, and health information services via remote technologies is quite new in Uganda and only a few people have so far used the service, but Kabagenyi says such initiatives would come in handy in case of crisis or even in an event that there’s a repeat of the lockdown with the fears of the second wave hitting lingering.
The study was conducted in three phases where they initially conducted telephone survey, sampling individuals from districts of Kampala, Wakiso, Mpigi, Arua, Soroti, Iganga, Mbarara and Kumi among others on their knowledge of family planning.
In phase two, the researchers disseminated family planning information through voice and SMS platforms where participants were allowed to call in the 24-hour call centre for any help and finally conducted interviews with health workers and policy makers to understand the challenges in health service provision.
Kabagenyi says overall, 43% of the participants consistently used contraceptives during the study period whereas 13% of the participants discontinued family planning services completely before the elapse of the study.
Also, the researchers including Dr Betty Kyaddondo, who heads family health at the National Population Council says 23% of the participants who weren’t using contraceptives at the start of the study initiated use after getting the information from telehealth.
In their recommendations provided, a lot of participants revealed missing contraceptives because of fear of contracting COVID-19 at health facilities, transport challenges and fear of security personnel at the height of the lockdown.
According to the researchers, the government should promote the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives such as the IUD and implants. They also note that telehealth has the potential of boosting self-care which the Ministry of health is currently integrating into care as its strategy of health promotion.
They say people who can’t go to the health facilities for such services should be given a choice. However, currently, there is no law in the country guiding the running of telemedicine.
Until that is available, Dr Katumba Ssentongo, the Registrar of the Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council says that the quality of that service cannot be guaranteed because it’s not clear on how they are regulated.