Developing an App for Improving Access to COVID-19 Information in Underserved Communities

Full Text (PDF, 596KB), PP.19-29

Views: 0 Downloads: 0


Vusumuzi Maphosa 1,*

1. Department of Information Communication and Technology Services; Lupane State University, Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe

* Corresponding author.


Received: 23 Feb. 2022 / Revised: 12 Mar. 2022 / Accepted: 28 Mar. 2022 / Published: 8 Jun. 2022

Index Terms

Health Information, Healthcare, Design Science Research, mHealth, COVID-19


The deployment of mobile health (mHealth) apps can transform healthcare in rural and remote communities worldwide. Rural communities in Zimbabwe have limited access to information that affects their health, economic and social being due to structural and social barriers related to the inaccessibility of traditional media. mhealth apps are a valuable tool to monitor disease outbreaks and provide preventative information to the public. Lack of access to COVID-19 information results in high fatalities and public panic, and it is critical to publish reliable and timely information. The study’s objective was to demonstrate the utility of a mHealth app prototype developed to enhance access to COVID-19 information in rural and remote communities in Zimbabwe. The prototype provides COVID-19 information such as statistics, preventative measures, self-diagnostics, social distancing information, and general hygiene to rural communities with limited access to official information channels on the pandemic. A design science research methodology was used to design, build and evaluate the COVID-19 mHealth app and fulfil the study’s objectives. Thirty potential users participated in the evaluation of the prototype. The evaluation results show that potential users perceived that the prototype was useful, engaging, easy to learn, well designed, and provided relevant information. A strong correlation was observed between the design, engagement, functionality, and learnability. More widespread usability and more representative tests should be conducted to ascertain the efficacy and usability of the app. The study contributes literature on usability studies in developing countries. As more mHealth apps are being developed and deployed, more usability tests will be required to ensure that they are fit for purpose. The paper provides a baseline for developing related health information apps. Policymakers, health practitioners, technologists, and scholars can further investigate the deployment of digital technologies to improve healthcare and control the transmission and spread of COVID-19.

Cite This Paper

Vusumuzi Maphosa, "Developing an App for Improving Access to COVID-19 Information in Underserved Communities", International Journal of Information Engineering and Electronic Business(IJIEEB), Vol.14, No.3, pp. 19-29, 2022. DOI:10.5815/ijieeb.2022.03.03


[1]C. Wang, P. Horby, F. Hayden and G. Gao, “A novel coronavirus outbreak of global health concern,” Lancet, vol. 395, no. 10223, pp. 470-473., 2020.
[2]L. Sophia, J. Xianhan, S. P.S and I. C. William Yang, “Lessons on mobile apps for COVID-19 from China,” Journal of Safety Science and Resilience, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 40-49, 2021.
[3]S. Sezgin, “Bridging the Digital Divide Through ODL,” Netherlands, 2020.
[4]N. Iivari, S. Sharma and L. Ventä-Olkkonen, “Digital transformation of everyday life – How COVID-19 pandemic transformed the basic education of the young generation and why information management research should care?” International Journal of Information Management, pp. 1-6, 2020.
[5]Chronicle, “1 doctor, 250 000 patients,” 23 December 2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 11 October 2021].
[6]Zimstats, “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Household Survey 2014,” Zimstats, Harare, 2014.
[7]S. Vashist, P. Luppa, L. Yeo, A. Ozcan, J.H and A. Luong, “Emerging Technologies for Next-Generation Point-of-Care Testing,” Trends Biotechnol, vol. 33, no. 11, p. 692–705, 2015.
[8]OECD, “ICTs for Development: Improving Policy Coherence,” OECD, Paris, France, 2010.
[9]ITU, “Measuring digital development - Facts and figures 2019,” ITU, Geneva, 2019.
[10]World Bank, “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends. Overview booklet.,” World Bank, Washington, DC, 2016.
[11]V. Muhamba, “Zimbabwe’s internet penetration rate is at 59.9% according to POTRAZ report,” 17 December 2020. [Online]. Available:
[12]S. Barutçu, “mHealth apps design using quality function deployment,” International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 698-708, 2019.
[13]S. Grobbelaar and M. Uriona-Maldonado, “Using technology to improve access to healthcare: The case of the MomConnect programme in South Africa,” Local Economy, vol. 34, no. 8, p. 838–852, 2019.
[14]F. McKay, C. Cheng, A. Wright, J. Shill, H. Stephens and M. Uccellini, “Evaluating mobile phone applications for health behaviour change: A systematic review. Journal of telemedicine and telecare,” vol. 24, no. 1, p. 22–30, 2018.
[15]V. Maphosa, “Using MyLSU app to enhance student engagement and promote a smart town at a rural university in Zimbabwe,” Cogent Education, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 1-16, 2020.
[16]C. Kruse, J. Betancourt, S. Ortiz, S. Luna, I. Bamrah and N. Segovia, “Barriers to the use of mobile health in improving health outcomes in developing countries: systematic review,” J Med Internet Res, vol. 21, no. 10, p. e13263, 2019.
[17]J. Lee, D. Kim, H.-Y. Ryoo and B.-S. Shin, “Sustainable Wearables: Wearable Technology for Enhancing the Quality of Human Life.,” Sustainability, vol. 8, no. 466, pp. 1-16, 2016.
[18]A. Labrique, L. Vasudevan, E. Kochi, R. Fabricant and G. Mehl, “mHealth innovations as health system strengthening tools: 12 common applications and a visual framework,” Glob Health Sci Pract, vol. 1, no. 2, p. 160–171, 2013.
[19]R. Pankomera and D. van Greunen, “Model for implementing sustainable mHealth applications in a resource-constrained setting: a case of Malawi,” Electron J Inf Syst Dev Ctries, vol. 84, no. 2, p. e12019., 2018.
[20]S. Steinhubl, E. Muse and E. Topol, “Can mobile health technologies transform health care?” Jama, vol. 310, no. 22, p. 2395–2360, 2013.
[21]WHO, “COVID-19 spurs health innovation in Africa,” 29 October 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 10 November 2021].
[22]I. Maramba, “Methods of Usability Testing in the Development of eHealth Applications: A Scoping Review,” International Journal of Medical Informatics, vol. 126, pp. 95-104, 2019.
[23]A. Knighton, K. Brunisholz and S. Savitz, “Detecting risk of low health literacy in disadvantaged populations using area-based measures,” EGEMS The Journal for Electronic Health Data and Methods, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 7-17, 2017.
[24]R. Senteio, “Promoting access to health information A method to support older African Americans with diabetes,” Aslib Journal of Information Management, vol. 71, no. 6, pp. 806-820, 2019.
[25]T. Oluoch and N. de Keizer, “Evaluation of health IT in low-income countries,” in Evidence-Based Health Informatics: Promoting Safety and Efficiency Through Scientific Methods and Ethical Policy,, Amsterdam, IOS Press, 2016, p. 324–335.
[26]S. Wallace, M. Clark and J. White, “‘It’s on my iPhone’: attitudes to the use of mobile computing devices in medical education, a mixed-methods study,” BMJ Open, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 1-7, 2012.
[27]I. Ogunkola, Y. Adebisi, U. Imo, G. Odey, E. Esu and D. Lucero-Prisno, “Rural communities in Africa should not be forgotten in responses to COVID-19,” Int J Health Plann Mgmt, vol. 35, p. 1302–13059, 2020.
[28]M. Mubeen, M. Iqbal, M. Junaid, M. Sajjad, M. Naqvi, B. Khan, M. Saeed and M. Tahir, “Usability Evaluation of Pandemic Health Care Mobile Applications,” in IOP Conf. Series: Earth and Environmental Science 704, Vancouver, 2021.
[29]S. O’Dea, “Smartphone users worldwide 2016-2021,” 6 August 2021. [Online]. Available:
[30]S. Jeong and H. Kim, “Health literacy and barriers to health information seeking: a nationwide survey in South Korea,” Patient Education and Counseling, vol. 99, no. 11, pp. 1880-1887, 2016.
[31]Statista, “Biggest App Stores in the World,” 20 April 2020. [Online]. Available:
[32]D. Levine, Z. Co, P. Newmark, A. Groisser, A. Holmgren, J. Haas and D. Bates, “Design and testing of a mobile health application rating tool,” npj Digital Medicine, vol. 74, pp. 1-7, 2020.
[33]L. Ceci, “Global year-over-year change in mobile app opens 2020, by vertical,” 7 June 2021. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2021].
[34]A. Burger, “Gartner: Mobile App Downloads To Exceed 268 Billion,” 22 January 2014. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 22 10 2021].
[35]POTRAZ, “Postal and telecommunications sector performance report,” POTRAZ, Harare, 2017.
[36]Zimstats, “Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey 2017 Report,” December 2018. [Online]. Available:
[37]Africaportal, “COVID-19: Implications for the ‘digital divide’ in Africa,” 14 May 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 July 2020].
[38]K. Singh and B. Landman, “Mobile health,” in Key Advances in Clinical Informatics, Academic Press, 2017, pp. 183-196.
[39]A. Mosa, I. Yoo and L. Sheets, “A systematic review of healthcare applications for smartphones,” BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, vol. 12, no. 67, pp. 1-31, 2012.
[40]M. Alwashmi, “The Use of Digital Health in the Detection and Management of COVID-19.,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, vol. 17, no. 8, pp. 2906-2912, 2020.
[41]C. Nguyen, Y. Saputra, N. Van Huynh, N. Nguyen, T. Khoa, B. Tuan, D. Nguyen, D. Hoang, T. Vu, E. Dutkiewicz, S. Chatzinotas and B. Ottersten, “A comprehensive survey of enabling and emerging technologies for social distancing–Part I: Fundamentals and enabling technologies,” IEEE Access, vol. 8, p. 153479–153507, 2020.
[42]mhealth-hub, “Open-coronavirus,” 12 May 2020. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 15 November 2021].
[43]S. Das, “Corontine platform by IIT profs to help govt, private firms build COVID-19 tracker,” 09 April 2020. [Online]. Available:
[44]V. Singh, H. Chandna, A. Kumar, S. Kumar, N. Upadhyay and K. Utkarsh, “IoT-Q-band: A low cost internet of things based wearable band to detect and track absconding COVID-19 quarantine subjects,” EAI Endorsed Transactions on Internet of Things, vol. 6, no. 21, pp. 1-9, 2020.
[45]S. Zhou, X. Jia, S. Skinner, W. Yang and I. Claude, “Lessons on mobile apps for COVID-19 from China,” Journal of Safety Science and Resilience, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 40-49, 2021.
[46]L. Verhagen, R. de Groot, C. Lawrence, J. Taljaard, M. Cotton and H. Rabie, “COVID-19 response in low- and middle-income countries: Don’t overlook the role of mobile phone communication,” International Journal of Infectious Diseases, vol. 99, pp. 334-337, 2020.
[47]CDC, “Coronavirus Self-Checker,” 16 August 2021. [Online]. Available:
[48]D. Busvine, “Covid-19: Germany launches smartwatch app to monitor coronavirus spread,” 07 April 2020. [Online]. Available:
[49]M. Sagar, “Malaysia Government next to launch app to monitor COVID-19 outbreak,” 10 April 2020. [Online]. Available:
[50]L. Wallis, P. Blessing, M. Dalwai and S. Shin, “Integrating mHealth at point of care in low- and middle-income settings: the system perspective,” Global Health Action, vol. 10, no. 3, 2017.
[51]A. Chaparadza, “Zimbabwe Now Has The Most Expensive Mobile Data In The World – Report,” 05 03 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12 August 2021].
[52]C. Aranda-Jan, N. Mohutsiwa-Dibe and S. Loukanova, “Systematic review on what works, what does not work and why of implementation of mobile health (mHealth) projects in Africa,” BMC public health, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 1-15, 2014.
[53]J. Poushter, “Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies,” 22 02 2016. [Online]. Available:
[54]HIMSS, “What is Interoperability?” 2018. [Online]. Available: .
[55]A. R. Hevner and S. March, “The information systems research cycle,” IT Systems Perspective, vol. 36, no. 11, p. 111–113, 2003.
[56]V. Vaishnavi and W. Kuechler, Design science research methods and patterns: innovating information and communication technology (Second edition ed.)., Boca Raton: FL: CRC Press., 2015.
[57]F. Niederman and S. March, “Design science and the accumulation of knowledge in the information systems discipline,” ACM Trans. Manag. Inform. Syst, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 1-15, 2012.
[58]K. Peffers, T. Tuunanen and B. Niehaves, “Design science research genres: introduction to the special issue on exemplars and criteria for applicable design science research,” European Journal of Information Systems, 27:2, pp. 129-139, 2018.
[59]A. Abd-Alrazaq, D. Alhuwail, M. Househ, M. Hamdi and Z. Shah, “Top concerns of tweeters during the COVID-19 pandemic: infoveillance study,” J Med Internet Res, vol. 22, no. 4, p. e19016, 2020.
[60]S. Gregor and D. Jones, “The anatomy of a design theory,” J Assoc Inform Syst Online, vol. 8, no. 5, p. 312–335, 2007.
[61]R. Baskerville, “What design science is not,” Eur J Inform Syst, vol. 17, no. 5, p. 441–443, 2008.
[62]B. Kuechler and V. Vaishnavi, “On theory development in design science research: anatomy of a research project,” Eur J Inform Syst, vol. 17, no. 5, p. 489–504, 2008.
[63]J. Nielsen, Usability Engineering, M. Kaufmann, Ed., California: Elsevier, 1993.
[64]K. Taber, “The Use of Cronbach’s Alpha When Developing and Reporting Research Instruments in Science Education.,” Res Sci Educ, vol. 48, no. 1, p. 1273–1296, 2018.
[65]A. Hussain, E. Mkpojiogu, H. Abubakar and M. Hassan, “The usability evaluation of on mobile device,” in The 2nd International Conference on Applied Science and Technology 2017 (ICAST’17), 2017.
[66]M. Khalil, J. Wong, M. Baars, F. Zafar and B. Wasson, “Evaluating the Usability of a Study Support Mobile App for Higher Education,” in World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learning, 2019.
[67]L. Mbuagbaw, S. Mursleen, L. Lytvyn, M. Smieja, L. Dolovich and L. Thabane, “Mobile phone text messaging interventions for HIV and other chronic diseases: an overview of systematic reviews and framework for evidence transfer,” BMC Health Serv Res, vol. 1, no. 15, pp. 33-40, 2015.
[68]V. Maphosa, “COVID-19 and the Digital Ecosystem: Using a Mobile App to Connect a Rural Community,” Aquademia, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-9, 2021.