Mobile technologies for maternal health: prospects and problems
Recently, an interesting panel convened at Woodrow Wilson Centre to address the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in the prevention of maternal mortality in low resource contexts. The eminent panel comprised: David Aylward, executive director of the mHealth Alliance at the United Nations Foundation; Josh Nesbit, executive director of FrontlineSMS: Medic and Alain Labrique, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
As Ramona Godbole has done an admirable summary of the New Applications for Existing Technologies to Improve Maternal Health session, I just capture a few highlights that stood out for me.
To illustrate the potential of mobile technology to transform global health, David Aylward explained that 70% of cell phones are in the developing regions and 85-90% of the world has mobile signal coverage. Five years ago, in Tanzania, there were 2 million cell phones but by 2009, these had increased to 17 million.
He identified the following potential roles of mobile technologies:
- Advancing data collection
- Enabling peer-to-peer connections such as Community Health Workers networks and women sharing information with one another
- Treatment and primary care
- Training and management – real time remote learning
- Disease and epidemic tracking
- Remote diagnostics
- Mobile health interventions tend to emphasize simple communication of wellness messages [such as telling pregnant women what to do or not]. Mobile tools have the potential to support transactional systems that can interface with other data, record systems to provide decision support capability
Aywlard points out a valid concern. The mobile landscape is awash with individual pilots lacking integrated interoperable systems. In Africa and other low-resource contexts, there are no legacy models to complicate innovation but there is a real danger of replicating the western model where there are plenty of ICT systems in healthcare but they are inefficient and uninteroperable.
I will summarize Josh Nesbit and Alain Labrique‘s sessions in subsequent posts.