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Several pandemics and non-communicable diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and malaria in Africa, continue to plague developing regions all over of the world. Just as necessary as clean water and food, strong public actions are required to monitor these diseases and ensure each region has affordable, immediate access to healthcare, resources and equipment. And in rural and developing regions where basic infrastructures such as electricity and roads are inadequate, many underserved clinics are turning to mobile health, or mHealth. The worldwide trend of using mobile phones for health represents an unprecedented opportunity for improving public health in impoverished or hard-to-reach regions.
mHealth solutions are beginning to spring up all over developing regions in Africa, as mobile becomes a widely recognized, sustainable approach to healthcare. TRACnet in Rwanda, considered the first national mHealth system in Africa, is collecting, tracking and disseminating critical drug and patient information. By leveraging the strength of the existing mobile infrastructure – nearly 70 percent of people in the developing world have a mobile subscription – TRACnet connects to every health facility providing treatments related to HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemics.
In Mali, the Pesinet agency uses mHealth to provide villagers with an affordable form of health insurance. In a region with one of the world’s highest child mortality rates, community health workers test children weekly for illness before entering the information into a custom-designed mobile app. Doctors retrieve the information on a digital database and assist health workers and families to arrange the necessary treatment options.
While each region presents its own unique challenges, worldwide mHealth programs are springing up as an answer to global healthcare. Communities with no electricity, plagued by HIV/AIDS or operating under threats of violence oftentimes suffer with limited to no access to the latest in medical research. Health eVillages, a worldwide mHealth program partially funded by Physicians Interactive (PI) and founded by our CEO and vice chairman, Donato Tramuto, donates medical reference materials on tablets and smartphones to clinics in developing regions. The program has already made a difference by offering clinical decision support resources to existing local organizations in Haiti, Uganda, Kenya, the U.S. and China.
While the current slate of mHealth projects and organizations are offering quick, affordable responses to illnesses or epidemics in developing regions, the future they are paving has an opportunity to change the state of healthcare worldwide. Advanced reporting lends insights to community data in regions where this type of tracking was previously unheard of, promising more preventative care and a deeper understanding of how diseases start and spread.
The need for accurate reporting systems is of the utmost importance to understanding the management of non-communicable or chronic diseases in arenas with limited resources. mHealth offers a sustainable solution to healthcare workers struggling to provide consistent, high-quality patient care in an area where chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancers, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis and more account for more than 60 percent of all deaths and is by far the leading cause of mortality, according to the World Health Organization. Lasting medical conditions, while difficult to treat, also present a serious drain on local resources as patient care needs to be consistently monitored and can be expensive to treat.
While mHealth is still in its infancy, initiatives such as these that operate at a low cost in developing countries can help spur innovation and testing for mobile healthcare in all parts of the world. Unlike in developed areas, these organizations serve communities where both health insurance and preventative care are nearly unheard of. A large part of mHealth program costs therefore must include awareness and education-building projects about mHealth benefits, such as reduced healthcare costs and access to hard-to-reach, rural communities.
A sustainable economic model largely dictates which mHealth program will flourish or flounder. Many regional programs offer care at free or reduced rates that hardly cover program costs in order to extend care to low-income communities.
As mHealth organizations continue working on finding better technology solutions and funding, programs continue to make life-saving changes to developing communities worldwide. Fueled by third-party donations and funding, the mHealth movement is changing how communities gain essential access to medical care. The rise of mobile within healthcare has made having a cell phone in hand a life-saving resource for both professionals and consumers. As the use of mobile devices grows more prevalent at the point of care, there is a real opportunity to finally track regional diseases and improve patient care worldwide.
Sanjay Pingle is president of Physicians Interactive and has oversight of the combined pharma and eCommerce business. Prior to joining PI, he was co-founder and executive vice president of Medsite, a biotechnology and pharmaceutical marketing firm.
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