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African highlights from WHO mHealth report

June 11, 2011  »  MobileOne Comment

Perhaps no application of technology is as helpful as the benefits of mobile health. E-government, m-banking, e-learning, and e-commerce certainly have their respective places in societal advancement, but the immediate need for health information trumps them all. Mobile health has been around for some time, but has only recently seen exponential global growth. In f act, nearly 90% of the world’s population still could benefit from the opportunities provided by mobile technologies.

On June 7, the World Health Organization published a report on mHealth based on the results of a 2009 survey of 112 Member States. Titled, “mHealth New horizons for health through mobile technologies,” the 112-page PDF examines how mobile devices are being used for health, with case studies from Ghana and Senegal. It also outlines obstacles facing greater mHealth usage and provides a global outlook. For reference, the last comprehensive WHO mHealth survey was given back in 2005.

Findings for Africa:

  • 29 African nations responded to the survey (90)
  • 75% of surveyed African nations report at least 1 mHealth initiative – the lowest of all regions by a slim margin (10)
  • Ghana’s MDNet was intended for online use, but the lack of Internet connectivity led the initiative to be run via SMS (24)
  • The use of mobile devices for emergencies was the most widely reported (48%) mHealth initiative in Africa (40)
  • In Senegal, mobile devices were used to collect health data in 2008 (44)
  • In Africa, the greatest barriers to mHealth were operating costs, knowledge, infrastructure, and policy. The former two were reported by 60% of countries – substantially higher than the global average (66)
  • Rural areas still have much room for growth (67)
  • The WHO expects African mHealth initiatives to transition from SMS to Internet (75)
  • Not responding: Algeria, Angola, CAR, Cote d’Ivoire, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania (93-95)

What will happen once stakeholders and governments cross the highest barriers (in this case operating costs, knowledge, and infrastructure)? Policy challenges, legal framework, demand, and technical expertise are currently (at least as of 2009) considered lesser barriers, but they are still at-large. Odds are that African innovation will eventually persevere, but no doubt it will take hard work.