Mobile health in developing countries

by Chad Hyett

Cell phone adoption isn’t just a phenomenon in the developed world. Developing countries, such as China, India and Africa, are adopting mobile phones at a startling rate. Many predict that by 2013, 95 percent of the entire world will have cell phones. The technology has become cheap and the infrastructure widespread. Even if a village in Africa shares just one or two phones – the access to the technology is still there.

The mobile health revolution can have a tremendous impact not only here at home, but in developing countries.

“There are 2.2 billion mobile phones in the developing world, 305 million computers but only 11 million hospital beds,” says Vodafone strategy director Terry Kramer.  Some parts of the world have a patient-doctor ratio of one in 20,000. There’s a huge potential to use mobile health technology to close this health care gap.

Some organizations are already setting trends in developing countries.

The Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Foundation, and Vodafone Foundation last year formed a partnership called the mHealth Alliance to facilitate the adoption of mobile health in developing countries.

Project Masiluleke, a South African project, is using unused text message space to broadcast an HIV awareness message. According to Health Affairs, this produced a four-fold increase in calls to the national AIDS helpline. Peru has a program where AIDS patients get a text message reminding them to take their medicine.

And the private sector is jumping in as well. Johnson & Johnson has as a program, Text4Baby, that provides education to pregnant women and new parents. More than 20 million people in China, India, Mexico, Bangladesh, South Africa and Nigeria take advantage of the program. There are a lot of examples like this out there.

Sometimes, especially in technology-driven countries like the US, we tend to over complicate mobile health approaches. Programs in developing countries demonstrate that mobile health can be simple and still have a tremendous impact.

Chad Hyett is member of the Board, Zibbel, Inc., and blogs at Mobile Health 360.

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  • http://www.patientkeeper.com Peter Henderson

    It makes sense that mobile health would evolve rapidly where cell phones predominate – and that’s potentially good news for third-world physicians, healthcare institutions and patients alike. Looking at the impact mobile clinical applications are having here in the U.S. on the quality of patient care, on physician efficiency and on physician satisfaction, it’s easy to envision those same benefits recurring in developing nations. Cell phone infrastructure won’t be the only determining factor; it will also come down to building out the healthcare infrastructure.