Mobile Health Trends in Africa Pt. 1

From maternal care support to early diagnosis, we are tracking some innovations within the mobile health sector

#MobileSaviour: Improving maternal care and preventing epidemics

Mobile technology is being utilized to boost healthcare services in developing countries. Whether its in fighting the dreaded ebola virus or providing medicine for pre and post-natal maternal care, the utilization of new mobile health technologies by African nations to improve the healthcare of its citizenry in impoverished regions is a growing trend. While most of the poorer countries including Mali, Liberia, Burundi and Zimbabwe - based on the 2015 GDP per capita - still struggle with malnutrition, inadequate hygiene and sanitation, medical practitioners, government agencies, NGOs and private health practices are learning how mobile technology can be harnessed to inspire and develop innovative solutions.

This offers an added opportunity to strengthen the capacity of clinicians, improve the quality of child health services and boost timely responses in the delivery of critical support mechanisms for patients. Mobile health technologies have been used to manage the spread of epidemics, support the maternal healthcare process and to effectively mitigate chronic disease conditions. In particular, tele-health platforms and wearable devices are becoming the tools of choice for tracking a patient's health, as well as the effectiveness of treatments and ongoing diagnostics.

Remote monitoring tools and mobile apps have brought a variety of benefits to healthcare workers and expanded their knowledge base on specific health issues. Diagnosis, treatment and experimentation can be situated within various contexts - patient's background, health history and root causes of an ailment; impact of the environment on patients where treatment is being received; and real-time results of preventive remedies and effects of solutions been applied. The resultant benefits include the ability to better train healthcare workers on treatments and diagnosis, tracking the movement of disease outbreaks, better organization of patient data overloads, and providing key information to frontline workers.

In the area of maternal care, Mobile Midwife and Text4Baby are mobile applications that proffer expert opinions and advice to expecting mothers. These health apps also encourages women to seek prenatal care and offers tips on delivery, breastfeeding, and proper nutrition during pregnancy. These are often important steps towards decreasing the number of deaths attributable to preventable causes during childbirth or pregnancy.

CliniPak, a portable "clinic-in-a-box" kit that operates on a solar panel model and pre-loaded with healthcare IT software, is used to assist "patients receiving ongoing treatment and for mothers requiring post-natal care for themselves and their infants".

In Liberia, a tech startup called Ushahidi developed a mapping tool that tracked the spread of the ebola disease. Through crowdsourced data, it compiled information on where the illness was spreading and how public health authorities should respond. The International Red Cross leveraged this information to send two million text messages monthly about ebola. This effort provided people with much-needed information about screening, diagnosis and treatment.

Several mobile apps available on Google's Play Store and Apple's Store have been utilized as monitoring tools and knowledge bases that help healthcare practitioners widen understanding within their respective fields. One company of note that stands out in the development of such apps is Austin-based HealthTronics, Inc. Recently, HealthTronics acquired Laser Ventures which solidified the positioning of the company as one of the most credible institutions offering clinically-sophisticated mobile applications with indepth information on various medical therapies. It is also developing strategic partnerships with health professionals to develop mobile apps that can be used in different parts of the world.

Looking Ahead

Implementing mobile programs requires the cooperation of technology providers, government agencies, non-profit organizations and healthcare experts. As expected, it is typically difficult getting all of these professionals to work together. Multiple barriers across agencies and organizations often create a confusing maze for adopting scalable policies, effective implementation and adoption across countries and institutions. Even so, many health innovations will be developed in response to prevailing issues in Africa, and will give rise to the promotion, application and spread of mHealth technologies in the continent. 

 

The Mobile Health Trends in Africa Report is a five-part series culled from TINK's Future Of Health Report.