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Bloomberg Philanthropies Renews Grant with Johns Hopkins for Development of Mobile Phone Surveys in Low- and Middle-Income Countries


Bloomberg Philanthropies has awarded a new grant to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that will enable a team of faculty based in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health to focus on research and development to study ways to design, implement, and evaluate mobile phone surveys for noncommunicable disease risk factor surveillance in low- and middle-income countries. This grant is part of phase 2 of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Data for Health Initiative, a multi-partner, $100 million initiative aimed at improving health in LMICs by improving the availability and accuracy of population-based, health-related data so governments can prioritize public health interventions.

In the first phase of Data for Health, the Bloomberg School team focused primarily on designing and assessing the feasibility, acceptability, and implementation modalities for deploying mobile phone surveys to collect NCD risk factor information, as well as the ethical implications of implementing the surveys in LMICs. In Phase 1, the Bloomberg School team evaluated the viability of mobile phone surveys to gather NCD risk factor information, with the aim of informing future design and delivery of mobile phone surveys. The team explored the ethical implications of using mobile phones to conduct active surveillance of NCD risk factors by conducting a survey of global stakeholders to identify current ethics-related knowledge and perceptions on the use of mobile phone surveys to gather NCD risk factor information in LMICs. The team also conducted a comparison study of different survey modalities to determine reliability between them, studied the role of airtime incentives to increase survey cooperation, and calculated the potential costs of scaling up these surveys at a national level.

The new $3 million, 4-year grant will focus on a further exploration of issues identified in phase 1, including testing strategies to increase population representativeness, data quality and reliability, and examining strategies to minimize survey drop offs.

“Bloomberg Philanthropies investment in Data for Health has enabled our team at Johns Hopkins University to confirm the feasibility and acceptability of mounting mobile phone surveys across diverse settings in Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” says George Pariyo, PhD, senior scientist in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School and project lead on the grant. “This award will help us further develop strategies to improve the quality and reliability of the data, and to ensure that mobile phone surveys are more representative of disadvantaged populations who are often less likely to respond to surveys. The team will also assess the costs of conducting nationally representative mobile phone surveys, as well as strategies on how to improve quality and reliability of the data and reduce non-response rates.

NCDs are a growing burden in LMICs, increasingly serving as the leading cause of death. They can be prevented by reduction of exposure to risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol. Mobile phone access and use is increasing in LMICs, particularly in rural and hard-to-reach areas, and can be used to improve the efficiency, timeliness and cost-effectiveness of data collection on NCD risk factor information.

The research team at the Bloomberg School includes:

  • George Pariyo, PhD, MBChB, senior scientist, Health Systems Program, Department of International Health
  • Dustin Gibson, PhD, MS, assistant scientist, Health Systems Program, Department of International Health
  • Andres Vecino Ortiz, MD, PhD, assistant scientist, Health Systems Program, Department of International Health
  • Vidhi Maniar, MPH, MS, research associate, Health Systems Program, Department of International Health
  • Joseph Ali, JD, assistant professor, Health Systems Program, Department of International Health and the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics
  • Alain Labrique, PhD, MHS, associate professor, Global Disease Epidemiology and Control Program, Department of International Health
  • Saifuddin Ahmed, PhD, MBBS, professor, Department of Population and Family Health

The team works with in-country partners at the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research in Bangladesh, Instituto de Salud Publica, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia, Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, and Makerere University School of Public Health in Uganda.