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November 5, 2015

Bloomberg School Receives $25 Million to Expand Data Survey Collection Through Mobile Phones

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has received a $25 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand data collection activities under the Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) project. PMA2020 uses mobile phones to carry out rapid-turnaround, nationally representative surveys that measure household well-being and health program performance across Africa and Asia.

Increasing the availability and use of data is a public health intervention in its own right,” says Chris Elias, MD, MPH, president of the Global Development Program at the Gates Foundation. “PMA2020 data is now informing policies, programs and tracking family planning progress in 12 geographies, by providing decision-makers with high-quality, more cost-effective data every 6 to 12 months.” 

The grant is being implemented by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Bloomberg School and supports survey data collection through a network of local university and research partners.

Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH ’87, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has seen the current project in action in Ethiopia. “This project is an example of the strength of the School’s international networks,” Klag says. “The surveys are implemented through local university and research partners such as Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Makerere University in Uganda. Our Johns Hopkins team provides initial training and technical assistance to its country partners. Over time, our partners take on greater responsibilities and become trainers and advisers to other countries, extending the collaboration.” 

PMA2020 recruits women from their communities and trains them to use smartphones to collect data on a continuous basis. These women visit selected households and health facilities with mobile phones to survey women and providers on family planning use, need, access and many other metrics. Once complete, each questionnaire is uploaded directly to a central cloud server. This technology is designed to minimize data entry errors and speed data turn-around. Data analysis and dissemination follow shortly, allowing end-users to access findings and data that are up-to-date and accurate. This innovative approach enables the project to inform policies and programs locally as well as track progress against the goals and principles of Family Planning 2020, an international initiative aimed at reaching 120 million more women with family planning information and services by the year 2020.

The new grant brings total funding for the project to $40 million and will support additional annual surveys in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Indonesia, Uganda, and Niger and subnational data in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), India and Pakistan.

PMA2020’s Project Director, Scott Radloff, PhD, notes that PMA2020 is midway through its five-year performance period. “Our focus for the first phase of PMA2020 has been on building the platform in new countries,” he says. “The focus in the coming years will be on strengthening the platform, introducing efficiencies and building sustainability. We will also continue to test innovations such as phone interviews, linking geo-spatial information to data on sample communities, and smartphone apps to capture physical health measures.”

While initially focused on family planning, plans are underway to expand data collection to other health sectors, including water and sanitation, maternal and newborn health, primary health care, and adolescent health.  With this expansion, the platform can assist countries track performance under the United Nations’ post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and improve vital registration systems.

“The project is igniting a revolution in how we collect data, and this fits well with our Institute’s mission of scholarship and science for social change,” says Jose “Oying” Rimon, MA, PgDip, director of the Gates Institute, who was involved in the initial project design and serves as a senior advisor to the project. “We look forward to continuing to build upon the PMA2020 platform and respond to the growing worldwide demand for high-quality, fast-turnaround data that empower governments and local stakeholders to make policy decisions based on evidence and to make mid-course programmatic corrections when needed.”

The PMA2020 project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Media contact for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Semee (Esther) Pak at 443-287-5137 or spak13@jhu.edu and Stephanie Desmon at 410-955-7619 or sdesmon1@jhu.edu.