Caregiver Acceptability of Mobile Phone Use for Pediatric Cancer Care in Tanzania: Cross-sectional Questionnaire Study

JMIR Pediatr Parent. 2021 Dec 8;4(4):e27988. doi: 10.2196/27988.


Background: There is a 60% survival gap between children diagnosed with cancer in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and those in high-income countries. Low caregiver knowledge about childhood cancer and its treatment results in presentation delays and subsequent treatment abandonment in LMICs. However, in-person education to improve caregiver knowledge can be challenging due to health worker shortages and inadequate training. Due to the rapid expansion of mobile phone use worldwide, mobile health (mHealth) technologies offer an alternative to delivering in-person education.

Objective: The aim of this study is to assess patterns of mobile phone ownership and use among Tanzanian caregivers of children diagnosed with cancer as well as their acceptability of an mHealth intervention for cancer education, patient communication, and care coordination.

Methods: In July 2017, caregivers of children <18 years diagnosed with cancer and receiving treatment at Bugando Medical Centre (BMC) were surveyed to determine mobile phone ownership, use patterns, technology literacy, and acceptability of mobile phone use for cancer education, patient communication, and care coordination. Descriptive statistics were generated from the survey data by using mean and SD values for continuous variables and percentages for binary or categorical variables.

Results: All eligible caregivers consented to participate and completed the survey. Of the 40 caregivers who enrolled in the study, most used a mobile phone (n=34, 85%) and expressed high acceptability in using these devices to communicate with a health care provider regarding treatment support (n=39, 98%), receiving laboratory results (n=37, 93%), receiving reminders for upcoming appointments (n=38, 95%), and receiving educational information on cancer (n=35, 88%). Although only 9% (3/34) of mobile phone owners owned phones with smartphone capabilities, about 74% (25/34) self-reported they could view and read SMS text messages.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess patterns of mobile phone ownership and use among caregivers of children with cancer in Tanzania. The high rate of mobile phone ownership and caregiver acceptability for a mobile phone-based education and communication strategy suggests that a mobile phone-based intervention, particularly one that utilizes SMS technology, could be feasible in this setting.

Keywords: SMS; cancer; caregivers; children; communication; developing countries; education; knowledge transfer; literacy; mHealth; mobile health; parents; pediatric cancer; pediatrics; smartphone; smartphone use.