“I now know I’m the boss”: Development of mobile phone-based sexual and reproductive health intervention for female sex workers in Kenya

Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology (East Africa); Population Health (East Africa)


Background: Female sex workers (FSWs) have high rates of both unintended pregnancy and HIV, but few health promotion interventions address their contraceptive needs or other sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) concerns. A broader approach integrates contraceptive promotion with HIV and STI prevention and management, alcohol awareness, gender-based violence and rights, and healthcare utilization. The WHISPER mobile phone intervention uses a participatory development approach and behaviour change theory to address these high-priority concerns of FSWs in Mombasa, Kenya.

Objective: This paper aims to describe the development and content of the WHISPER intervention, its theoretical framework and key content domains, and; explore workshop participants’ responses to the proposed intervention, particularly with regards to message content and behavior change constructs.

Methods: The research team worked closely with FSWs in two phases of intervention development. First, we drafted content based on review of the literature and behavior change theories. Second, we conducted six workshops with 42 FSWs to test and refine message content, and 12 interviews to assess the technical performance of the intervention. Workshop data were thematically analyzed using a mixed deductive and inductive approach.

Results: The intervention framework specified six SRHR domains that were viewed as highly relevant by FSWs. Reactions to content in these domains revealed that social cognitive strategies to improve knowledge, outcome expectations, skills, and self-efficacy resonated well with workshop participants. Participants found the messages empowering to themselves and their communities, and most said they would share the messages with others. The final intervention was a 12-month SMS program consisting of informational and motivational messages, role model stories portraying behavior change among FSWs, and on-demand contraceptive information.

Conclusions: Our results highlight the need for health promotion interventions that incorporate both HIV/STI prevention and management and broader components of SRHR. Using a theory-based, participatory approach, we developed a digital health intervention that reflects the complex reality of FSWs’ lives and provides a feasible approach for addressing their SRHR concerns and needs. FSW may benefit from health promotion interventions that provide relevant, actionable, and engaging content to support behaviour change.

Publication (Name of Journal)

JMIR Publications Inc