A doctor in your pocket

A doctor in your pocket

The potential of mobile phones in improving global health

This special report on health care and technology, published by The Economist, describes how developing countries are using mobile phones to provides personalised medicine. Drawing from experiences of various countries, the authors demonstrate how new technologies help to tackle the health problems of the world’s poorest.

The authors argue that given their ubiquity, personal convenience and interactivity, mobile phones offer an innovative way to reach reticent HIV sufferers. The authors report on one of the world’s biggest field trial of mobile health technology (or mHealth). Using a form of text messaging similar to SMS, Project Masiluleke in cooperation with MTN, sends out up to a million short messages a day, encouraging the recipients in their local language to contact the South African national AIDS hot line. The authors note that the response has been spectacular, especially among young men who have proved hard to reach in the past.

With demonstrated success in the use of mHealth in the likes of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Mexico, the authors recommend that the visible face of any mHealth or e-health scheme, regardless of where it operates, needs to be as simple and user-friendly as possible, whereas the hidden back end should use sophisticated software and hardware.

The authors conclude that the poor clearly benefit from technical improvements that cut the cost of manufacturing medical devices, make drugs more effective, or eliminate the need for refrigerating vaccines, as well as through big technical breakthroughs that save many millions of lives. Mobile phones, as demonstrated from the examples in this report, can aid early detection, effective early responses, and remote medicine.

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