Implementation of an interactive voice response system for cancer awareness in Uganda: mixed methods study

Johnblack K Kabukye, Onaedo Ilozumba, Jacqueline E W Broerse, Nicolette de Keizer, Ronald Cornet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Cancer awareness is crucial for cancer care and prevention. However, cancer awareness in Uganda is low, and access to cancer information is limited.

Objective: This study aims to (1) understand the cancer awareness situation in Uganda (perceptions, beliefs, information needs, and challenges to accessing cancer information) and opinions about interactive voice response (IVR) systems; (2) develop cancer awareness messages and implement them in an IVR system; and (3) evaluate user acceptance and use of the IVR system.

Methods: A participatory design approach was adopted. To understand cancer awareness needs and challenges, 3 interviews and 7 focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with cancer health care providers, patients with cancer, caregivers and survivors, administrators, and lay citizens (n=73). On the basis of the resulting qualitative data, audio messages addressing cancer information needs were developed and implemented in an IVR system. The system and messages were tested with users (n=12) during 2 co-design workshops before final rollout. Finally, the system was evaluated over 6 months after going live, using call records and user feedback from telephone interviews with callers (n=40).

Results: The cancer information needs included general topics such as what cancer is, what causes it, cancer screening and diagnosis, cancer treatment, and practical information on what to expect during cancer care. There were also myths and misconceptions that need to be addressed, such as that cancer is due to witchcraft and has no treatment. Information on COVID-19 was also sought after following the outbreak. We developed 20 audio cancer messages (approximately 2 minutes each) in English and Luganda, along with 14 IVR navigation instructions. These were implemented in an IVR system with 24/7 availability from all over Uganda via a toll-free multi-channel telephone number. The total number of calls made to the IVR system 6 months after going live was 3820. Of these, 2437 (63.8%) lasted at least 30 seconds and were made from 1230 unique telephone numbers. There were 191 voice messages and 760 calls to live agents, most of which (681/951, 71.6%) were in Luganda. Call volumes peaked following advertisement of the system and lockdowns due to COVID-19. Participants were generally familiar with IVR technology, and caller feedback was largely positive. Cited benefits included convenience, toll-free access, and detailed information. Recommendations for improvement of the system included adding live agents and marketing of the system to target users.

Conclusions: IVR technology provides an acceptable and accessible method for providing cancer information to patients and the general public in Uganda. However, a need remains for health system reforms to provide additional cancer information sources and improve cancer care services in general.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere22061
Number of pages12
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2021


  • health promotion
  • low-and-middle-income countries
  • medical oncology
  • mobile phone
  • participatory research
  • telemedicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Implementation of an interactive voice response system for cancer awareness in Uganda: mixed methods study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this