Mobilizing care: improving health through mobile technology

By Tracey Grose

In the area of health, mobile devices are enabling developing countries to not only leap-frog the wired world but also rise above persistent social, political, economic barriers. Examples from emerging economies around world illustrate a variety of innovations that hold promise and demonstrate success for improved health in urban centers with the greatest need.

According a World Health Organization Bulletin, 71 percent of e-health programs in low and middle-income countries are based on mobile phones, and e-health programs are most numerous in India and SubSaharan Africa. The Mhealth Alliance is one organization exploring new ways for improving health outcomes through mobile devices. Some examples of innovative applications and devices include:

  • mPedigree, addresses the dire scourge of counterfeit medicine in African countries. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, estimates that up to 30 percent of drugs supplied in developing world are fake. With mPedigree, unique codes in scratch cards are affixed on medicine packaging which can be scanned by buyers and sent by text message to verify the origin of the drug.
  • Medic Mobile uses existing mobile technology to support community health workers in monitoring of people in difficult to reach places, maintaining contact with new mothers regarding antenatal care and immunizations, and tracking stock of medicines.

New Cities Foundation Urban E-Health Project just released findings of its 18-month pilot project in Santa Maria, an underserved community of Rio de Janeiro. With its rapidly aging population and its challenging terrain, Santa Maria was chosen as an optimal test bed for the pilot. The project will help inform the development of appropriate approaches in other parts of the developing world where concerns are shifting from the management of communicable disease to that of chronic disease. The project supplied the local family clinic with an e-health backpack with state-of-the-art health indicator measurement tools provided by GE, a founding member of the New Cities Foundation. With the pack, healthcare workers were able to provide in-home care to aging patients with mobility problems. Staff can carry out blood tests, measure blood pressure and test for up to 20 different diseases. By preventing clinical conditions, the study cites the project’s positive impacts across economic, clinical and social measures.

Finally, global surveillance is improving through new mobile and online surveillance tools which are working to pre-empt pandemics and streamline international coordination. HealthMap supports a mobile application for reporting and tracking local outbreaks. Other examples include ProMED from the International Society of Infectious Diseases and Google Dengue Trends, which uses aggregated Google search data to estimate dengue activity.

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