Can You Hear Me Yet?: mHealth breakthroughs not increasing as fast as the possibilities
Mobile phones are the future.
That’s saying something, because they already represent “the biggest ‘machine’ the world has ever seen.” According to the Word Health Organization, about three-fourths of the world’s population has greater access to a mobile phone than a bank account, electricity or clean water.
Amazingly, the number of mobile users in developing countries has surpassed the number in high-income countries. There are now 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, representing 96 percent of the planet’s population. That’s up from 6 billion in 2011 and 5.4 billion in 2010.
So how could mobile phones be even more important in the future, if most of the world already has one? Because one day soon they’ll be put to their highest use: saving millions of lives.
Of course, mHealth has been at the forefront of global health for a number of years, and a topic we’ve covered exhaustively on NextBillion. Summits have been held and many more are planned. There have been breakthroughs. But we’re at a point in this brief history where it’s also fair to ask: Have the breakthroughs kept pace with the ever-increasing possibilities?
Susan Evangelista, writing for NextBillion Health Care this week, traced the success of her organization, Roots of Health, back to its model of being entrenched in communities. “Primary health education, like primary health care, is a small scale, almost one on one, process,” she wrote.
Her organization gets to know the people it serves, understands their needs and hopes, finds out firsthand how to make a difference.
It’s impossible to implement this strategy on a global scale. There are simply not enough Susan Evangelistas to go around.
While mobile phone applications will clearly never take the place of organizations like Roots of Health, they do represent a chance to have personal contact with actual stakeholders on a scale higher than ever previously imagined.
Excellent products have failed because innovators trying to reach the BoP didn’t understand the consumers. Similarly, those studying global health care issues need more information in their effort to find solutions.
Mobile phones – even simple ones – can be used to track people’s movement. They can give a glimpse into the causes and effects of diseases. They can link problem-solvers with the information they require, and solutions with those who need them. Some of that happens today. But imagine the possibilities if mobile technology were laser-focused on global health.
New devices and outside-the-box thinking are needed in the global health care effort. But the “world’s biggest machine” already exists, and nearly everyone has one. We’re all watching and waiting – impatiently – to see how this incredible machine will evolve.