The rapid adoption of mobile phone technologies in Africa is offering exciting opportunities for engaging with high-risk populations through mHealth programs, and the vast volumes of behavioral data being generated as people use their phones provide valuable data about human behavioral dynamics in these regions. Taking advantage of these opportunities requires an understanding of the penetration of mobile phones and phone usage patterns across the continent, but very little is known about the social and geographical heterogeneities in mobile phone ownership among African populations. Here, the authors analyse a survey of mobile phone ownership and usage across Kenya in 2009 and show that distinct regional, gender-related, and socioeconomic variations exist, with particularly low ownership among rural communities and poor people. We also examine patterns of phone sharing and highlight the contrasting relationships between ownership and sharing in different parts of the country. This heterogeneous penetration of mobile phones has important implications for the use of mobile technologies as a source of population data and as a public health tool in sub-Saharan Africa.
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