Consent for mobile phone surveys of non-communicable disease risk factors in low-resource settings: an exploratory qualitative study in Uganda

Erisa Mwaka, Janet Nakigudde, Joseph Ali, Joseph Ochieng, Kristina Hallez, Raymond Tweheyo, Alain Labrique, Dustin G. Gibson, Elizeus Rutebemberwa, George Pariyo


Background: Lack of data for timely decision-making around the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) presents special challenges for policy makers, especially in resource-limited settings. New data collection methods, including pre-recorded Interactive Voice Response (IVR) phone surveys, are being developed to support rapid compilation of population-level disease risk factor information in such settings. We aimed to identify information that could be used to optimize consent approaches for future mobile phone surveys (MPS) employed in Uganda and, possibly, similar contexts.
Methods: We conducted an in-depth qualitative study with key stakeholders in Uganda about consent approaches, and potential challenges, for pre-recorded IVR NCD risk factor surveys. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 key informants. A contextualized thematic approach was used to interpret the results supported by representative quotes.
Results: Several potential challenges in designing consent approaches for MPS were identified, including low literacy and the lack of appropriate ways of assessing comprehension and documenting consent. Communication with potential respondents prior to the MPS and providing options for callbacks were suggested as possible strategies for improving comprehension within the consent process. “Opt-in” forms of authorization were preferred over “opt-out”. There was particular concern about data security and confidentiality and how matters relating to this would be communicated to MPS respondents.
Conclusions: These local insights provide important information to support optimization of consent for MPS, whose use is increasing globally to advance public health surveillance and research in constructive ways.