Text messages sent to household tuberculosis contacts in Kampala, Uganda: Process evaluation

Amanda J. Meyer, Diana Babirye, Mari Armstrong-Hough, David Mark, Irene Ayakaka, Achilles Katamba, Jessica E. Haberer, J. Lucian Davis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Previous studies have reported the inconsistent effectiveness of text messaging (short message service, SMS) for improving health outcomes, but few have examined to what degree the quality, or “fidelity,” of implementation may explain study results. Objective: The aim of this study was to determine the fidelity of a one-time text messaging (SMS) intervention to promote the uptake of tuberculosis evaluation services among household contacts of index patients with tuberculosis. Methods: From February to June 2017, we nested a process evaluation of text message (SMS) delivery within the intervention arm of a randomized controlled trial of tuberculosis contact investigation in Kampala, Uganda. Because mobile service providers in Uganda do not provide delivery confirmations, we asked household tuberculosis contacts to confirm the receipt of a one-time tuberculosis-related text message (SMS) by sending a text message (SMS) reply through a toll-free “short code.” Two weeks later, a research officer followed up by telephone to confirm the receipt of the one-time text message (SMS) and administer a survey. We considered participants lost to follow-up after 3 unsuccessful call attempts on 3 separate days over a 1-week period. Results: Of 206 consecutive household contacts, 119 had a text message (SMS) initiated from the server. While 33% (39/119) were children aged 5-14 years, including 20% (24/119) girls and 13% (15/119) boys, 18 % (21/119) were adolescents or young adults, including 12% (14/119) young women and 6% (7/119) young men. 50% (59/119) were adults, including 26% (31/119) women and 24% (28/119) men. Of 107 (90%) participants for whom we could ascertain text message (SMS) receipt status, 67% (72/107) confirmed text message (SMS) receipt, including 22% (24/107) by reply text message (SMS) and 45% (48/107) during the follow-up telephone survey. No significant clinical or demographic differences were observed between those who did and did not report receiving the text message (SMS). Furthermore, 52% (56/107) reported ever reading the SMS. The cumulative likelihood of a text message (SMS) reaching its target and being read and retained by a participant was 19%. Conclusions: The fidelity of a one-time text message (SMS) intervention to increase the uptake of household tuberculosis contact investigation and linkage to care was extremely low, a fact only discoverable through detailed process evaluation. This study suggests the need for systematic process monitoring and reporting of implementation fidelity in both research studies and programmatic interventions using mobile communications to improve health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10239
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Africa
  • Fidelity
  • Implementation
  • Intervention
  • Short message service
  • Tuberculosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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