POTRAZ Advises Zim To Use SMS And Voice Network For Health Communication Interventions… Says majority of Zimbabweans still using generic phones

The Mobile Revolution is here and Zimbabwe just like many other countries in the world has progressed in ensuring access to mobile phone services is affordable by anyone regardless of economic background. In Zimbabwe, even horses have cell-phones and there are probably more mobile phones than there are toothbrushes in the world.

By Michael Gwarisa

The mobile phone is accessible in even the most remote areas of the world where often times access to clean water, medical personnel or health facilities do not exist. Mobile phone technology has a growing and pervasive influence on society, with over 14 million mobile phone subscriptions in Zimbabwe in a country of 15 million people.

Launched in 1973, the mobile phone has become central to some of the most radical developments in health. The broad reach of mobile phones means that health interventions reach large numbers of people at low cost. Mobile health or (mHealth) applications are transforming healthcare in rural and remote communities worldwide. Rural communities in Zimbabwe have limited access to information that affect their health, economic and social being due to structural and social barriers related to the inaccessibility of traditional media.

In 2020, POTRAZ and the Zimbabwe Statistical Office conducted a door to door census which was known as the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Access by household and individuals and they gathered that unlike the popular belief that majority of people including young people now own and use smartphones or broadband based phones, over 90% of the population were still using Second Generation or 2G Network.

In terms of the network, in Zimbabwe we have a very wide network of 2G technology. We have a 2G population technology of 93.56 percent which means that about 94 percent of our people are covered by mobile network. This implies that 2G is the basic technology that enables mobile voice calls as well as SMS. This means that access to these services is quite high,” said POTRAZ Competition and Market Research Executive, Rumbidzai Panavanhu.

In terms of 3G, the total population coverage is about 70.6 percent and according to POTRAZ this implies that connectivity is not yet ubiquitous countrywide and the gap is still there especially the rural and urban divide where there is a population coverage of 84 percent for urban areas and rural population coverage of 67.2 percent.

“This implies that our health interventions may need for now to be focuses SMS and Voice because broadband is not yet ubiquitous. In terms of LET as well, coverage is still very low where we have a population coverage of juts 39.1 percent and this is concentrated in the urban areas.”

She however said she was confident that Zimbabwe could successfully roll out mHealth interventions owing to the huge mobile penetration in the country.

“Mobile Technology is the backbone for mobile health (mHealth) and all other health initiatives hence. There are many mobile applications in HIV. Six key applications of mobile technology in HIV and SRH have already emerged and these have mainly been supporting adherence to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), sending basic prevention and other health messages, introducing people to services such as Voluntary Counselling and Testing, supporting health workers to do their jobs, saving time and increasing the operational efficiency of services. Phone applications have also worked to improve the efficiency of data gathering and analysis for service management purpose and the adaptation of phones to provide a portable diagnostic device.”

Mobile phones especially smart phones being developed nowadays have diagnostic functions which actually test one’s temperature, pulse, and many other uses.

“In terms of mobile phones ownership, there were a total of 1,714,303 adolescents and youths who divulged that they won a mobile phone. This was 34% of people in the adolescents age group owning a mobile phone.”

Mobile phone use in Zimbabwe according to POTRAZ stands at 3, 256, 195 out of the total population of 5 million adolescents, indicating an access rate of 64.5 percent.

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