How WhatsApp Can Support Health Care in Africa

Social media is more than cat GIFs and selfies. In low- and middle income countries, easily accessible communication tools can significantly enhance professional networking and transfer of knowledge.

The project Social Media 4 Health Professionals (#SM4H) of the learning.lab of the FHNW School of Business examines how WhatsApp can be used by health care professionals in rural areas of Africa. Mobile messenger applications like WhatsApp are prevalent in developing countries with weak infrastructure because they work with lesser bandwidth and can connect users across large geographical distances.

#SM4H is part of the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Dr. Christoph Pimmer (middle) with the Management Board of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan (photo: #SM4H).

The results of the project, which is led by Dr. Christoph Pimmer and Prof. Urs Gröhbiel, indicate that WhatsApp is the favourite professional communication tool of nurses and midwives in Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. It is used, for example, in managing geographically distributed teams, medication logistics and trainings. Furthermore, research with more than one thousand participants has shown that the systematic use of the platform can result in an increase in relevant (clinical) knowledge and higher levels of professional connectedness among health care professionals.

E-learning and Guidelines

Eliane Blumer is involved in the project as part of her Master’s thesis. Based on findings from focus groups and other insights, she supports the development of guidelines for the usage of WhatsApp and other social media plattforms for 30’000 Zambian nurses. The guidelines will be made available additionally in form of an e-learning module, which Eliane will design and evaluate. The content of the module will also include the issue of „false information“,  which no one in the field of social media can escape. In health care, however, false and misleading information can have particularly devastating consequences. One of the biggest challenges is thus to assist professionals in recognizing which messages are trustworthy and which are not, and helping them to develop skills to leverage social media in a professional manner.

WhatsApp can be an important part of the daily work of health care professionals in rural Africa (photo: Christoph Pimmer).

For Eliane, the thematic combination of #SM4H was the crucial incentive to join the project. * I knew that I wanted to do something with e-learning and health care. This complements my Bachelor’s degree in Information Science and my work as subject specialist at the EPFL library in the field of Life Sciences. Still, the diverse nature of the subject is a welcome challenge.“

What brings a student who lives and works in Lausanne to study in northwestern Switzerland? „The MSc Business Information Systems is the only degree programme that is flexible enough to accommodate my professional work. And it is the only programme of its kind in Switzerland that is taught entirely in English. Those were the deciding factors.“

We wish Eliane all the best for her Master’s thesis and look forward to the results of #SM4H.

Further Information

Webpage #SM4H


Dr. Christoph Pimmer

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