How mobile phones enhance access to health services
Our last blog shared with you the benefits of mobile banking and the access to financial institutions it creates for people around the world. Mobile phones are not only revolutionizing financial services, mobile phones are also making medical information and medical training available to people in rural locations and poorer communities. One, of several positives, from the Millennium Development Goals (2015) was the increased attention it brought to public health issues, especially in the developing world. As a result, the world saw increased funding for health services and research as well as more government concern in the area of public health. Despite the amazing successes, there are still gaps present in many countries. One of these gaps centers on maternal mortality. The graph below highlights the decline in maternal mortality.
But it also underscores that within Africa maternal mortality still outpaces other regions. Mobile phones can help. In Nigeria, an app called Commcare is bringing health care workers, midwives and patients together. Through the app healthcare workers and midwives can track patient progress and provide medical advice to women who are unable to physically come to the clinic. The more thorough connection between health worker and patient allows for a more tailored patient program and birth plans. The app provides reminders of appointments through SMS and supplies a record of health visits that can be accessed by other health facilities in case of an emergency or complication. This app and data collection allow health care workers to better prepare for complications during pregnancy and provide life-saving treatment if necessary.
Nigeria is also providing maternal care through Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) which was launched in 2011. MAMA is the product of private/ public partnership aiming to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers and their families through mobile phones. Messages focused on pregnancy expectations and progress are delivered directly to the woman’s phone. The messages provide continued support and information until the infant is 3 years old. MAMA has enabled millions of pregnant women and mothers to get the information they need. This program is also found in Bangladesh, India and South Africa. One important note of success is that within Bangladesh and South Africa these projects have been scaled nationally, adopted by local organizations and continuously funded by the national governments. Nigeria and India are attempting to scale up the program. In India the program has been taken over and expanded by ARMMAN a India based nonprofit organization committed to improving the well-being of pregnant mothers, newborn infants and children in the first five years of their life. ARMMAN has introduced mMitra a comprehensive mobile based tool that provides preventive care information in the local dialect to pregnant women and women with children under 5 years old. This is an incredible innovation that should not be undervalued. Providing SMS messaging in the local dialect, not the official language allows more women access to the knowledge.
Mobile technologies are also working to decrease infant and child mortality rates across the world. The Grameen Foundation is one of the leading innovators in mobile technology use for health care. This foundation has made a priority of working with local partners in order to expand the network of knowledge to marginalized communities and enhance their understanding of healthcare issues. Through the development of the MOTECH, a mobile health technology, governments and NGOs within the developing world can now better tackle challenges in global health. In India, the “Ministry of Health and Family Welfare announced the national roll out of two MOTECH-powered programs developed by BBC Media Action, Mobile Academy and Kilkari, both aimed at addressing health challenges that result in high infant and maternal mortality rates. Kilkari directly calls pregnant women and mothers, delivering crucial health information targeted to their stage of pregnancy or their infant’s age. Mobile Academy uses Interactive Voice Response (IVR) messages on mobile phones to train front-line health workers in maternal and infant care.” Within India we see a multi-faceted approach to using mobile technology designed to further the knowledge of the communities and health workers.
UNICEF has also recognized the need and importance of mobile technologies in health care. mTrac, implemented in Uganda, enables thousands of frontline health workers at health centers throughout the country to electronically submit weekly HMIS reports with a focus on disease surveillance and essential medicines. This is invaluable in the fight to combat epidemics and outbreaks. The success of mTrac has been replicated in other countries throughout Africa.
The above represent only a few of the organizations that recognize the value of mobile technology. Mobile technology allows millions of people the ability to access information and share ideas and data. There is a rise in the availability and access to mobile phones. By focusing on innovative technologies, local communities, governments and international development agencies can work together to eradicate poverty and create sustainable solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
Check out our next blog. We will look at the relationship between mobile phones and the agricultural sector.
Blog post by Linnie Pawlek, founder of Teach By Tech, Inc. a 501 (c)3 organization located in Colorado, USA. To learn more about how Teach By Tech is working to make education accessible to women of the urban slums in the developing world visit our webpage: www.teachbytech.org