Mobile phone surveys for collecting population-level estimates in low-and middle-income countries:A literature review

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Medical Internet Research








Cellular phone; Computer-Assisted telephone interview; Interactive voice response; Mobile phone surveys; Short messages service; Survey methodology


© 2017 Adrian Aguilera, Emma Bruehlman-Senecal, Orianna Demasi, Patricia Avila. Background: National and subnational level surveys are important for monitoring disease burden, prioritizing resource allocation, and evaluating public health policies. As mobile phone access and ownership become more common globally, mobile phone surveys (MPSs) offer an opportunity to supplement traditional public health household surveys. Objective: The objective of this study was to systematically review the current landscape of MPSs to collect population-level estimates in low-And middle-income countries (LMICs). Methods: Primary and gray literature from 7 online databases were systematically searched for studies that deployed MPSs to collect population-level estimates. Titles and abstracts were screened on primary inclusion and exclusion criteria by two research assistants. Articles that met primary screening requirements were read in full and screened for secondary eligibility criteria. Articles included in review were grouped into the following three categories by their survey modality: (1) interactive voice response (IVR), (2) short message service (SMS), and (3) human operator or computer-Assisted telephone interviews (CATI). Data were abstracted by two research assistants. The conduct and reporting of the review conformed to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. Results: A total of 6625 articles were identified through the literature review. Overall, 11 articles were identified that contained 19 MPS (CATI, IVR, or SMS) surveys to collect population-level estimates across a range of topics. MPSs were used in Latin America (n=8), the Middle East (n=1), South Asia (n=2), and sub-Saharan Africa (n=8). Nine articles presented results for 10 CATI surveys (10/19, 53%). Two articles discussed the findings of 6 IVR surveys (6/19, 32%). Three SMS surveys were identified from 2 articles (3/19, 16%). Approximately 63% (12/19) of MPS were delivered to mobile phone numbers collected from previously administered household surveys. The majority of MPS (11/19, 58%) were panel surveys where a cohort of participants, who often were provided a mobile phone upon a face-To-face enrollment, were surveyed multiple times. Conclusions: Very few reports of population-level MPS were identified. Of the MPS that were identified, the majority of surveys were conducted using CATI. Due to the limited number of identified IVR and SMS surveys, the relative advantages and disadvantages among the three survey modalities cannot be adequately assessed. The majority of MPS were sent to mobile phone numbers that were collected from a previously administered household survey. There is limited evidence on whether a random digit dialing (RDD) approach or a simple random sample of mobile network provided list of numbers can produce a population representative survey.