Going Mobile in Sub-Saharan Africa to Save Lives – And Change The Future
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Mobile technology is rapidly transforming communications and culture in Africa. More than half the continent’s population has a mobile device, up from just one percent in 15 years, according the United Nations. Of course, cities and developed regions are as connected as their counterpart elsewhere, but remote and undeveloped areas where people live on little more than a dollar a day are usually poorly served. That is beginning to change, and healthcare providers are using technology to improve and save lives.
Caroline Mbindyo is the program manager for eHealth EHTH -0.45%, of Amref Health Africa and she sees first-hand how the connection to the field can be transformative – especially in sub-Saharan Africa where fighting disease is such a critical development mission. We caught up with Caroline by email to discuss Amref’s work, the impact of bringing mobile technology into the field, and the big picture on healthcare and connectivity in the region.
Tom Watson: How can mobile devices be used to improve health care delivery in sub-Saharan Africa?
Caroline Mbindyo: With a projection of 930 million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2019 – nearly one for every resident – you can imagine that mobile devices should play a critical role in improving health care delivery, especially in remote areas where most people don’t have access to quality health facilities or providers.
Mobile devices can be used to provide training to all cadres of health workers across Africa, from community health workers to specialist physicians and health managers – those individuals running health facilities. They can be used to promote positive health behaviors for communities, such as the importance of hand-washing. Mobile devices can track and manage health commodities to ensure that the required products are available where and when they are needed.They can be used to collect and analyze patient data, disease and condition specific data (for example TB or cervical cancer) and health facility management data. Text messages can be sent on an as-needed basis to improve health worker practices, for example, guidelines on how to provide anti-retroviral therapy to pediatric patients, or how to manage a patient with acute diarrhea.
Aside from mobile phones, smart phone attachments are also being used to improve diagnosis and to provide almost immediate, in-the-field test results, such as for HIV and syphilis that are currently being tested in Rwanda.