Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mobile phones trump hospital beds in developing-world healthcare

The U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have ambitious targets for reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters worldwide by 2015. But a shortage of healthcare workers and other economic and environmental trends make boosting life expectancy rates a tough challenge.


To help tackle this problem, three of the world's biggest philanthropic foundations - the Rockefeller Foundation,the United Nations Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation - have come together in a partnership to improve healthcare through mobile technologies.



"When you consider that there are 2.2 billion mobile phones in the developing world, 305 million computers but only 11 million hospital beds, you can instantly see how mobiles can create effective solutions to address healthcare challenges," says Terry Kramer, a trustee of the Vodafone Foundation.


The use of mobile devices in healthcare, known as "mHealth", is powering the collection of data, supporting diagnosis and treatment, and advancing education and research in some of the world's poorest communities, according to the United Nations Foundation.



The Mobile Health (mHealth) Alliance will act as an umbrella organisation bringing existing initiatives together, and cultivating cooperation between governments, non-governmental organisations and telecoms firms in developing countries.


An innovative project in Namitete in rural Malawi demonstrates the value of "remote" medicine. Set up by Josh Nesbit, a student of international health and bioethics at Stanford University, it uses mobile messaging to help manage a dozen volunteer health workers covering different communities.


They are a critical resource in an area that lacks basic amenities and where many have to walk miles for medical treatment.


The project relies on text messaging and FrontlineSMS, a mass SMS messaging programme that is free to non-profit organisations.


Each health worker has been given a cell phone (bearing the hospital logo), loaded with airtime credit, which allows them to communicate with the hospital.


An administrator back at the hospital uses a laptop to send messages to the field workers. In return, they report on their patients' condition, medication needs and whether follow-up visits are required.


Though many of the volunteer health workers had never used cell phones before, they have experienced very few difficulties. And text messaging is now an essential component of the hospital's infrastructure.


The project's success has led to its expansion into FrontlineSMS:Medic, which aims to replicate the model across health centres in the developing world.



Source: http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/43555/2009/02/5-151139-1.htm
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