The Rockefeller Foundation, the Vodafone Foundation and the United Nations Foundation recently launched the Mobile Health Alliance, or mHealth, in an effort to improve healthcare in developing countries through mobile and computer technology.
The announcement came during the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, last week. Claire Thwaites, head of the U.N. and Vodafone Technology Partnership, said that technology has many health applications; such as text messaging programmes to improve public awareness about diseases like HIV/AIDS or malaria. She added that mobile support could be used to bolster public health campaigns, adding, "Then you get more sophisticated uses of mobile to support consultation and remote diagnosis, as well as being able to communicate with health workers, which there’s a huge lack of in the developing world." Thwaites noted that mobile and computer technology could help achieve targets in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals regarding diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria.
According to AFP, a study by the U.N. foundation and Vodafone called "mHealth for Development: The Opportunity of Mobile Technology for Healthcare in the Developing World," examined 51 programs in 26 countries that used technology in the health field. It found out that India with 11 projects and South Africa and Uganda with six projects each had made the largest advances. For example, a project in Uganda used text messages to send a quiz about HIV/AIDS to 15,000 mobile phone subscribers in a rural region, asking them to participate in the quiz to receive free airtime for correct answers. The quiz also included a final message motivating participants to be tested for HIV at a local health centre. The number of people undergoing testing at the local healthcare centre increased from 1,000 to 1,400 during a six-week period, according to the report.
Adele Waugaman, a spokesperson for the U.N. foundation, said, "There are a couple of interesting benefits the project brought to light. One of them is the benefit of talking to people in their local language," adding that in countries with widespread HIV/AIDS-related stigma, text messaging provides a "new form of access that addresses these stigmatisation and privacy concerns." Thwaites told conference attendees that there is "a real need to have an alliance" between Non Governmental Organisations, governments and corporations to harness these benefits. Daniel Carucci, vice president of health at the U.N. foundation, said that technology could "reduce the pressure on public health care systems.
The mHealth Alliance is expected to host a conference by the end of the year to invite people from both the private and public sector to participate in the programme.