Access to actionable and evidence-based information is an essential element for improved health services and health outcomes, including family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH). While we know that access to useful health information remains limited in the developing world, there is little evidence about the specific information needs at the various level of the health system. To address this gap in the literature, the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project and local partners implemented a multi-country qualitative needs assessment in Malawi, India, and Senegal.
At the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning
, K4Health staff shared the results of this study during a panel titled “Meeting Health Information Needs in Family Planning and Reproductive Health: A Multi-Country Assessment.” The presentations from India, Malawi, and Senegal explored:
- Health information needs and preferences;
- Information sources;
- Preferred communication channels;
- Barriers to accessing and using health information; and a
- Available technologies and tools.
Findings from the three countries were presented separately, and then panelists explored similarities and differences among the three country-level findings during the question/discussion session.
, information needs were uniform within each health system level, but varied among health system levels. Technical and practical resources were cited as important and complementary needs. Findings also showed a barrier to information flow just below the district level, where written communication shifts to oral communication. This can result in information bottlenecks, delays, and message distortion.
Respondents in Malawi
cited a need for evidence-based best practices for program design. They also mentioned needing technical information on FP/RH and HIV&AIDS to support implementation, training, supervision, and clinical services. Finally, health professionals lack clearly packaged materials; these could support behavior change, basic treatment, and referrals.
assessment revealed that information to address religious and cultural barriers to use of family planning was a common need all among levels of the health system. Specifically, participants mentioned information on addressing negative rumors in the community, as well as materials that could help motivate men and involve them more in FP/RH services.
In all three countries, information needs varied by the level of the health system and were related to the professional roles (e.g., program manager or health provider) of the respondents. The potential for mobile technologies to extend the reach of health information was also a common finding.
Presenters in this session put forth specific recommendations to improve access to and use of information, including:
- Tailor health information resources to address the specific needs at each health system levelCreate systems for better storage and use of information
- Create a central repository for FP/RH and other health information
- Develop mechanisms for greater collaboration and coordination
- Leverage the exponential growth of mobile phones to extend the reach of health information
- Develop interventions that go beyond access and increase use of health information
Together, these findings address a gap in the literature by identifying the specific information that is needed in the day-to-day work of health professionals at different levels of the health system. Summary reports from the India
, and Senegal
needs assessments are currently available on the K4Health website. Full results will be published in a forthcoming Special Issue of The Journal of Health Communication. For more information on mobile applications at K4Health, visit the mHealth section on the K4Health website
Tara M. Sullivan is Knowledge Management Director at Knowledge for Health.