Principal Investigator: Kelli O’Laughlin, MD, MPH (University of Washington)
Exploring innovative approaches to collecting COVID-19 symptom and exposure data and sharing public health information with displaced populations in remote locations.
The purpose of this research, and of the Dial-COVID interactive voice response (IVR) telephone surveillance and mitigation tool, was to help provide data to health-implementing partners and to the Ugandan Ministry of Health regarding clusters of people with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 disease. It also aimed to help link individuals to information and services.
The “Dial-COVID” telephone tool enabled collection and dissemination of COVID-19 information among refugee populations in Uganda. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys with pre-recorded messages in nine languages overcame language and literacy barriers, did not require smartphone or internet access, and eliminated the need for in-person interaction. Its effectiveness at reaching previously hard-to-reach groups and adaptability may make IVR an appealing method for dynamic public health emergencies or outbreaks that require a rapid response.
Dial-COVID was advertised in refugee settlements across Uganda for participants to call into toll-free. Participants received an IVR survey screening for COVID-19 symptoms/exposures and public health messages. A subset of participants were invited for COVID-19 testing, longitudinal surveys and qualitative interviews.
With the diversity of health programing and the need to survey as well as mitigate infectious diseases among refugee populations, the Dial-COVID tool comes in handy for surveillance and messaging on COVID-19 to individuals living in hard-to-reach areas within this setting. The Dial-COVID tool can be replicated to address other public health concerns in the future.
We anticipate that the Dial-COVID interactive voice response platform will serve as an effective symptom tracker and information dissemination tool. Dial-COVID could help with characterizing the burden of COVID-19 among refugee populations in Uganda and may assist with mitigation of disease through timely and focused public health messaging.
Dial-COVID showed high acceptability/uptake. During 15,436 calls, participants including a high proportion of refugees and people with limited education, interacted with the platform in all nine languages.
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