Still no silver bullet

June 9, 2011

Tom Wheeler, Image Credit: GSMA

The conference ended last night on a positive note for developing countries. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the board of the mHealth Alliance, told the closing session that the developing world’s patchy healthcare systems make them extra suitable for mHealth applications, which will increasingly depend on services hosted in cyberspace, as opposed to facilities on the ground.

That said, mHealth solutions do not need to be sophisticated to deliver, he added. “It’s all about information, and the network that facilitates the transfer of information. And that information doesn’t have to be ‘zeros’ and ‘ones’. The ability to make a phone call to get someone to take a pregnant mother who is in distress, to a medical facility — there is nothing technologically revolutionary about that. But the impact of that is transformational.”

Personally, I got the feeling that many of the challenges and opportunities that have surfaced during the conference have done so before — and will do so again, at future mobile health meets. “It’s always the same talk,” said a woman I spoke to whose mHealth business had a stall at the exhibition part of the conference.

Another issue was the lack of doctors at a meeting dedicated to healthcare. One speaker on Tuesday commented that although this was a conference about healthcare, all the panelists on the stage at that moment were technology types.

So I leave heartened by what I’ve heard, and the enthusiasm I’ve seen, but wondering when we’ll see the promise of mHealth fulfilled in my own back yard in South Africa. It’s clear that what everybody is waiting and hoping for is a healthcare breakthrough like m-pesa, the mobile banking system that has become hugely successful in Kenya. Something so obviously useful that it can’t help but succeed.

There was no such silver bullet presented at this conference. But given the strong interest from techies and policymakers alike to get mHealth off the ground, this won’t be the last we hear on the subject.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist

Health going mobile: Mobile Health Summit 2011, Cape Town

June 3, 2011

There are five billion mobile phone subscribers in the world. For many in the developing world it represents the most efficient and reliable way of accessing information and communicating with each other. This provides an opportunity for healthcare providers to improve healthcare for people living in hard-to-reach areas.

The emerging field of ‘m-health’ technology applications will be the focus of the Mobile Health Summit that will be held in Cape Town next week (6-9 June). I will be on site, reporting on the latest innovations and the challenges in rolling them out in developing countries.

On this blog, you will read about the first comprehensive global survey looking at how 112 countries use mobiles to achieve health goals. This report, prepared by the UN Foundation, as part of a partnership with the Vodafone Foundation, and the World Health Organisation will be launched on Tuesday (7 June).

I will also attend an invite-only roundtable where ministers, mobile companies and international development organisations. And of course there will also be a bunch of m-health success stories (and some not so successful ones) to light the road ahead.

Meanwhile, you can check out some of SciDev.Net‘s coverage of mHealth issues on our homepage. Most recently, Jody Ranck argued that using mobile to collect and share health data can make healthcare cheaper, faster and more equitable and we reported from a similar mHealth Summit in Washington DC in November.

Linda Nordling, SciDev.Net columnist


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