The Health Systems Program sponsored Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH) doctoral student, Abigail Greenleaf, to attend the Comparative Survey Design and Implementation (CSDI) Workshop in Mannheim, Germany on March 16 – 18 to present preliminary findings from a mobile phone survey (MPS) study conducted in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda. The study was part of the Data for Health Initiative (D4H), funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

CSDI brings together survey practitioners who work on projects across cultures and regions. Presenters shared best practices around questionnaire development, translation and comparability of data; all concepts pertinent to D4H’s MPS work. Abigail’s presentation was part of the “Innovative Uses of Technologies & Tools” session, and reviewed the interactive voice response (IVR) survey, a MPS method. The IVR survey uses pre-recorded questions in order to provide for remote data collection.

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. NCDs can be prevented by the reduction of exposure to major risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol. Researchers at JHSPH are evaluating the viability of mobile phone surveys to gather NCD risk factor information. With increasing mobile phone access in rural and hard-to-reach areas, mobile phone surveys (MPS) can be used to improve the efficiency, timeliness and cost-effectiveness of data collection in LMICs by interviewing respondents over their own personal mobile phone.

There is currently a dearth of research about IVR practices in LMICs. In 2016, the JHSPH team piloted an NCD risk factor MPS in three countries in order to promote IVR survey best practices. In addition to Abigail, the team consisted of researchers from the Department of International Health: Drs. Dustin Gibson, Alain Labrique and George Pariyo, as well as Program Director, Dr. Adnan Hyder; and Mr. Joe Ali of JHU Berman Institute of Bioethics.

The D4H team is hopeful that as IVR surveys become more common, these preliminary findings will help inform future IVR studies in low- and middle-income countries.