The Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) has published a special issue of scientific papers on the use of mobile technologies for national-scale population surveys. The special theme issue features the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH)’s work for Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative (D4H).

Researchers at JHSPH are working to assess, harness and roll out the use of mobile phone technology in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) as a cost-effective method for the rapid collection of quality non-communicable disease (NCD) risk factor data, such as tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity and unhealthy diets. The special issue features JHPSH’s work in closing critical gaps in understanding the ways by which mobile phone surveys (MPS) could be used as a digital health tool in the collection of NCD data in LMICs. The issue addresses current knowledge gaps through an examination of relevant extant literature, provides an analysis of several ethical issues surrounding the use of mobile phones to collect personal data in LMICs, and examines the challenges of turning data into international- and national-level policies. The issue also offers a comparison of each primary MPS method and examines the current landscape of MPS technology currently being used for population-level data collection in LMICs.

Researchers from the Health Systems Program in the Department of International Health at JHSPH were key contributors to the issue, including Drs. Adnan Hyder, Alain Labrique, Dustin Gibson and George Pariyo. They hope that this research will help to provide guidance on using MPS to understand and curb the rise of NCDs in LMICs and respond to challenges surrounding the employment of mobile phone technology in LMICs.

Next steps include continuing to document empirical experiences of MPS used to collect NCD risk factor data, engaging with global bodies toward the development of a research agenda, establishing a global working group of experts to address the ethical issues surrounding MPS use in LMICs, and working with international and national level policy-makers to create a comparative framework for turning results into policy and practice.

D4H seeks to help government officials and public health leaders make informed decisions on health care priorities by collecting public health data. The Initiative seeks to improve civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems, explore ways to expand current non-communicable disease (NCD) surveillance efforts, and provide training on data analysis and use to governments in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). JHSPH is a partner organization that is leading the research and development (R&D) component of the NCD arm of the Initiative.

The Health Systems Program is focused on achieving accessible, cost-effective health care and healthy outcomes across the lifespan for families, communities and nations. In the past decade, the Program has conducted projects in over 50 countries, with particular expertise in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest number of people continue to struggle with deep poverty and unmet health needs.

For more information, please contact Melissa Reed, Communications and Program Specialist, at melissar@jhu.edu