The Future of mHealth: Mobile Phones Improve Care in Developing World

Monday, February 13, 2012

People in developing nations depend on mobile phones to access health services and prevent disease, as mobile technology creates a platform for improving healthcare in remote, underserved areas.

The Future of mHealth is our series that explores opportunities and challenges of mHealth, which aims to put widespread access to healthcare within the reach of those who need it most.

According to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union, nearly 70 percent of people in the developing world have a mobile subscription, and Cisco reports worldwide 48 million people without electricity and landline Internet access have a mobile phone, showing that of mobile use outpaces basic infrastructure in many rural and developing areas.

These numbers represent an opportunity for the mHealth field, because devices can reach people who might otherwise go without care and services, impacting the health of entire populations and furthering public health initiatives in remote, underserved areas.

Halting the Spread of Contagious Disease

In developed countries, mobile health innovations manage and prevent chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

In developing nations, however, the need is much different. In countries without access to clean water, sanitary conditions and basic preventive care, communicable diseases still run rampant.

Cell phones fight cholera in Haiti, for example. Late last year, community health workers began using specially programmed Nokia cell phones to track information about cholera infections in Haiti’s Central plateau. The disease affects thousands of Haitians in isolated mountain communities, and worsens during the fall rainy season.

Diseases such as cholera are on the rise, as well, since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which created a large homeless, migratory population and eased the disease’s spread.

By tracking and reporting new cholera cases quickly using mobile technology, health workers can isolate the disease to prevent spreading and get treatment to people who need it.

Cholera can kill within 24 hours of infection. Before the mobile program, health workers often walked six or more hours to submit weekly disease reports from outlying areas, losing critical days of response time.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)

Health Care, Technology
public health