By Maria-Alexandra Radu:
If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are luckier than the million people that will not survive this week.
One billion people will never see a health professional in their lives. But 95% of the world’s population now has access to a mobile signal . These are two equally astonishing facts, but surely it could be possible to exploit the latter in the hope of moderating the former.
Wi-Fi, smartphones, and all the associated options of these services have infiltrated pockets and homes around the globe. Today’s children are the first generation of “digital natives”; and the uses of their everyday technology is something that should be making us optimistic about the future of developments within healthcare.
Health apps are ever present on our mobile devices with 40,000 estimated mobile health apps across multiple platforms and 247 million people who have downloaded a health app. They are as diverse as their user base but the three broadest uses are for personal fitness and wellbeing, clinical and care-enhancing tools, and health research. Those designed to promote fitness and wellbeing have been found to be most popular amongst women in developed countries in the 24-54 age range and can be used to monitor heart rate, calorie intake and exercise efficiency .
Contrastingly, healthcare research apps are used by a diverse range of demographics, and are becoming increasingly popular in developing countries. A reason for the success of apps like these is that on the African continent, for example, most of the virtual technology that is widely used comes from hand-held smartphones rather than laptops, which have been largely bypassed.
One tech giant that has taken notice of this “leap-frogging” of technologies is Samsung. They recently announced plans, beginning from this year, to incorporate a free app into all the devices they distribute within Africa. Entitled “Smart Health”, the app claims to be ‘the first ever Pan-African Mobile Health Delivery Network’ and has been launched in 7 countries. The app provides real-time information on three pandemics: HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, along with approved symptom checkers for each disease. Providing access to information that individuals may not easily get from their governments or public health authorities could prove to be hugely beneficial. By being inbuilt into Samsung technology, the content of the app provides the new standard to which users are assessing their health. In countries with more developed healthcare systems this type of accessibility may be taken for granted, but when something is built into your phone it becomes an unquestioned part of your daily life; and its content becomes less of a taboo.
Another company providing a great example of mobile technology facilitating access to healthcare is Medic Mobile; a start-up mobile communication platform for remote health workers; conceived in a Stanford dorm room and now helping to reach the 1 billion people who will never see a doctor in their lives.
The software has currently been developed in 4 major areas, although these are not its only functions:
• ANTENATAL CARE – Taking care of women and their babies
Improving access to basic healthcare services can have significant effects on maternal and infant mortality rates. Health workers use Medic Mobile to register every pregnancy in their community, automatically schedule reminders about care visits, report danger signs and coordinate with clinics to ensure delivery in facilities with skilled birth attendants.
• CHILDHOOD IMMUNISATION – Simple texts lead to life-saving immunisations
A simple and effective way of preventing life-threatening diseases is to immunise infants against illnesses like measles, polio, diphtheria, and tuberculosis. Medic Mobile is used to increase coverage for childhood immunisations by registering every infant and supporting on-time appointments with automated messaging.
• DISEASE SURVEILLANCE- Better reporting means better diagnosis and treatment
In Namitete, Malawi, 250,000 people are served by a single hospital. For some people it’s a 100-mile journey to get there. There are high rates of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, and it can be challenging to detect, report, and treat illnesses. Medic Mobile helps report symptoms to the nearest clinic, receive treatment advice and emergency referrals, and provide information about the disease burden in their community.
• DRUG STOCK MONITORING- A system to ensure the availability of medications
Stock-outs for essential medicines can have life-threatening consequences. A study by Oxfam found that in Malawi, only nine percent of local health facilities had a full complement of essential drugs, including antibiotics and vaccines. Health workers and patients are now using the Medic Mobile platform to report stock levels every week, manage stock-out events, monitor dashboards, and guide distribution to ensure access.
Users are at the centre of everything Medic Mobile does and the functions are always created using the philosophy of human-centred design. This design process begins by opening a discourse with community health workers, nurses, patients, and community members all seeking ways to make health care delivery more efficient, effective and far-reaching. Medic Mobile’s product team strive to work closely with health workers in the field to prototype solutions, give feedback, and ultimately implement solutions. The goal is to find the right tools for each project. The focus of the work has been, and will continue to be, to serve the most vulnerable communities in the most difficult environments.
The examples of the projects ran by Medic Mobile and Samsung prove that the technology is already here, the capabilities are extensive and the only thing needed now is the transfer and support of our knowledge and the widespread provision of mobiles. If we could predict malaria outbreaks, obtain information for patients that are miles away and then train those patients to respond to their best abilities, we are already on track to help them help themselves. We need to promote the importance of global civic responsibility and not be afraid to harness the latest technological developments to achieve this. If we want to live in a world where anyone, anywhere, can access healthcare services and medicines, this must become our new reality.
About Maria-Alexandra Radu:
“Connecting and sharing ideas with people from all corners of the world inspires me, motivates me and fuels me to never stop being a Changemaker. The area of international development that I want to dedicate myself to is women empowerment and their access to STEM fields.”