4 June 2020, Nairobi… Officials in Kisumu and Nyeri counties, in partnership with PharmAccess, are tapping M-TIBA to send a series of targeted COVID-19 health information messages. Over 627,000 families have already been sent messages about managing their health and safety.

County officials are able to leverage M-TIBA’s existing system and functionality to respond to COVID-19. They have anonymized geolocation information on hundreds of thousands of citizens, registered on M-TIBA for the Afya Care Universal Healthcare Pilot. This remains an important advantage to target specific areas, with tailored messages and different chosen languages.

In its daily situation report on 20 May 2020, the Ministry of Health outlined measures being taken for community engagement and cited the “bulk SMS service operated by M-TIBA. The system sends messages to all people registered under UHC. The service is facilitated by PharmAccess.”

M-TIBA was developed by CarePay, in collaboration with PharmAccess and Safaricom. It has over 4 million registered users nationwide and is being made available for other County Governments to develop targeted communications campaigns.

Isaiah Okoth, Country Director Kenya, PharmAccess Foundation says, “SMS is a powerful tool in getting COVID-19 messages to Kenyans. It is direct, immediate, and can be integrated with other platforms. At PharmAccess we are in regular discussions with the Ministry of Health and other healthcare bodies about ways to use the M-TIBA platform to strengthen our COVID-19 response.”

The Communications Authority of Kenya puts the number of active mobile phone subscribers in Kenya at over 53 million, which translates to a SIM penetration level of above 112%.

M-TIBA and KHF have recently rolled out an SMS platform to help the security services verify the identity of essential health workers moving around during lockdowns. A security officer can send a free SMS with an ID number to shortcode 20503. This will generate an instant SMS message verifying that the individual and – if applicable, the vehicle – are on official business. It can all be done in minutes and at no cost to either party.

John Ngumi, CarePay Board Chairman says, “We know that mobile platforms and applications are playing a major role in our response to COVID-19. CarePay is working on projects to share targeted COVID-19 messages, as well as generating instant intelligence through surveys and identity verification shortcodes. More widely, we are supporting the development of COVID-19 monitoring applications and scaling telemedicine offers from healthcare providers.”

Several tier one hospitals in Kenya now have a telemedicine service or remote care call centre, to help people access care without making unnecessary hospital visits. Targeted SMS are being used to promote these services and appointment/treatment reminders. M-TIBA also offers remote treatment patient verification, treatment initiation and payments.

Moses Kuria, Managing Director, CarePay Kenya says, “Even though we are all in an extreme situation, SMS communications on COVID-19 still needs to be legal, proportional and compassionate. In a pandemic situation we still need to be incredibly mindful of people’s concerns about data protection, privacy and over-communication. It is vital that data is being stored securely and we have the correct consents in place. Both PharmAccess and CarePay comply with the Kenya Data Protection Act and the EU’s GDPR legislation.”