mHealth Takes Flight
Executive Director Josh Nesbit speaks at the Make A Difference Conference in Hong Kong.
Health on the go
Health is going mobile—on the cellphone, that is.
But much of the innovation in mHealth, as it’s commonly called, is
taking place in developing countries. India’s health minister, for
instance, announced that the government will be collecting the
mobile numbers of pregnant women to ensure the immunization
of newborns. Similarly, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action
(MAMA) will provide prenatal and neonatal information
via SMS to 15 million young mothers throughout the developing
world. And non-profits such D-Tree in Tanzania are streamlining
the process of collecting information with mobile phones.
While these endeavors have largely been done on Java-based
cellphones that cost $15 to $25 in the developing world, low-cost
smart phones, like the Android-based IDEOS, are penetrating African
markets. Priced at $80, the phones increase the efficiency of
health workers by collecting, analyzing and disseminating information
for non-profits. But the phones aren’t just for aid workers;
individuals are using their mobiles to improve their health as well.
With mPedigree, users in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya can text to
establish whether their medicines are counterfeit or authentic.
Mobile health has attracted the attention of big players in
the West. The United Nations Foundation, in partnership with
Vodafone Foundation, has set up an initiative to consider mobiles
for development in health. Last year’s mHealth summit in
Washington, D.C., attracted 2,000 attendees from 50 countries
and high-profile philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Ted Turner,
who were enthusiastic about technology-driven solutions in
public health. But much of the innovation in mHealth has been
pioneered by start-ups like MedicMobile, a non-profit that uses
mobile-based platforms to serve public health. Because mobile
phone use has grown exponentially in emerging markets, giving
access to the poorest, simple Java-based phones have been
transformed into data powerhouses. Ultimately, the mobile phone
has led to decentralization of health services. “We finally have
a way to communicate and coordinate essential service delivery
in the ‘last mile,’” says MedicMobile’s founder and CEO, Josh
Nesbit. “The simple ability to connect and coordinate has already
substantially changed health systems.”
To take this concept further, MedicMobile will be exploring
how mobile payments, hugely successful in Africa with the rise
of Safaricom’s m-PESA, can be aligned with health systems. And
much of this will take place in the developing world, where inequalities
in health persist. | Esha Chhabra
This was originally printed in ODE Magazine Jan/Feb Issue.