Freelance health and development journalist working in Johannesburg
The widespread adoption of mobile phones in developing countries is opening up a world of possibilities for the health sector, a session of Forum 2012 devoted to “mobile health” was told.
Expectant mothers in South Africa, Bangladesh and India, for example, are being reached through a mobile phone campaign that sends them health information and continues through to the first year after the birth of a child.
The programme, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), is run by the USAid-supported mHealth and the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson, and has in its first two years has already reached half of pregnant women in South Africa.
The project already has several sources of revenue, and the intention is that its initial donors will withdraw after two years, leaving it to stand on its own feet.
The session was also told that telecommunications has not only made it possible to reach people in remote areas, but has allowed people to make informed decisions on their health.
“It has allowed us to target low-income women in hard to reach areas, and has also helped in our goal of promoting gender equity,” said USAid advisor Lauren Marks.
Telecommunications has also come to the aid of health in fighting the US$75-billion market in counterfeit medicine.
A system run by mPedigree, a non-profit organsition based in Ghana, allows customers to scratch a panel on a medicine package and text the code to a central authority, which can then verify in seconds whether the medicine is safe.
mPedigree president Bright Simons told the session that this not only saved lives, but had a wider health impact, as counterfeit medicines had contributed to the growing problem of drug resistance.
The real power, he said, was not in the technology, but in the wide range of partners that had come together to create this system. “It’s about sharing accountability,” he added.
Another example, of “mobile health” came from South Africa, which has 75% mobile phone penetration, and where Vodacom had agreed to support 70,000 volunteer community health care workers through its Nompilo project.
By helping them keep track of patient details, the community workers are able to improve the care that they provide. And based on the success of the project, Vodacom is planning to extend it to Kenya and Tanzania.
These were just some of the ways in which the mobile telephone is revolutionising health-care in the developing world. And the future promises to be even brighter.
Kathryn Strachan is a freelance health and development journalist working in Johannesburg.
This blog post is part of our Forum 2012 coverage — which takes place 24–26 April 2012.