Opportunities for Mhealth in Africa

5 Min Read

November 22, 2010 By specialguest

The term “mHealth” is suddenly every where in the media these days, thanks to the likes Bill Gates, Vodafone Foundation and the Rockfeller foundation championing the possibilities that this innovative approach can bring to health not just in the Developing world but also in the Developed world.  

Recently in London a doctor created an iphone app  called the i-stethoscope which allows people to monitor their heartbeat and see their heart wave form, this may seem like a vanity app created to serve the worried  well, however in Africa developers are using simple SMS protocols to create mhealth applications that are  saving real lives.

Across the developing world, especially in west Africa, counterfeit drugs are a serious problem. it is estimated that  45% drugs in Nigeria are fake. The World Trade Organisation estimated that fake malaria drugs accounted for 100,000 African deaths a year.

In comes two African start-ups using  simple SMS protocol  of mobile phones to reduce the amount of counterfeit drugs in the system, Dr Ashifi Gogo of  Sproxil and  Mr Bright Simmons of mPedigree have both created simple solutions that use SMS to verify whether a drug is counterfeit or not, President Bill Clinton recently described Gogo’s work as “a genuinely remarkable achievement.”                                                                                          

The opportunities in mhealth do not  lie solely in pharmaceuticals, there are many strands of applications across the African continent where the mobile phone is being used to radically improve the lives of poor people who might not have direct access to medical practitioners.

It’s against this backdrop that Global mobile communication and health experts are set to meet in Ghana this December to discuss appropriate and timely solutions that involve mobile heatlh, The mHealth Africa Summit will explore the use of mobile technologies to improve access to quality health care, particularly in under-served populations; and in health research, training,and education applications in Africa.

Mobile phones have the ability to revolutionize several components of the health delivery system, including: collecting clinical and community health data, monitoring patient vitals signs in real-time, augmenting the direct provision of care by linking health care workers to patients, delivering health care information to practitioners,researchers, and patients as well as addressing supply chain management problems.

Mobile phones could also play a significant role in health financing systems, including authentication of health insurance subscribers, monitoring of health benefits and paying for health services and products.The mHealth Africa Summit presents an opportunity to bring together interested parties from around the world working in the health care and associated sectors to exchange ideas, discuss innovative solutions, explore scalabilty and sustainability of successful pilots, and develop collaborations in Africa.

The financial opportunity for companies involved in mhealth can not be underestimated, the success of the M-Pesa mobile money system in Kenya demonstrates the possible returns that early adopters of mobile technology in Africa can make, It is estimated around 11% of Kenya’s GDP passed through the M-PESA system in 2008.

The big telecom companies all have mhealth on their radar,with Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange establishing Healthcare divisions,whether these companies can be convinced to look at Africa first remains to be seen, however it is an opportunity that many African financiers are pursuing with a passion. With African Universities producing smart IT graduates looking to code and develop applications who knows where the next  “mhealth” application that revolutionizes healthcare in Africa will come from.

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