3 mHealth apps you should know

A mobile phone runs an mHealth app. Photo by: African Nutrition Matters / CC BY-SA

It’s long been established that mobile phones these days are no longer just used for calls and text messaging. Its compactness and portability have allowed engineers, app developers or anyone with imagination to use it for different purposes.

And it applies very much so in development, particularly in the health sector. There’s now an app being used by community health workers for contact tracing of people exposed to the Ebola virus in Guinea. A team of eye care experts and engineers have also developed and tested a smartphone adapter that health workers can use for professional eye examinations in remote, hard-to-reach villages in developing countries like Botswana, Kenya and Mali.

Other organizations meanwhile raise awareness about specific health issues like maternal health or the importance of deworming for children by marketing their apps in the form of games, like those developed by Half the Sky Movement.

But a number of these applications have limitations. Some are only available in select countries. Others require additional hardware. Several of these also require users to work closely with the developer.

For development professionals who just want an easily available application that they can use on their mobile phones, it need not be that complex though.

Below, we list some of the mobile apps that can be downloaded on Apple’s App Store, Google’s Android Market or Play store and Amazon Marketplace, which development workers can use on the ground. These apps are globally available, easily downloadable and, best of all, free and can be used offline.

1. First Aid by the American Red Cross

What do you when someone suddenly comes to you bleeding, you see someone who has just survived a bombing attack or when a colleague starts feeling chest pain and breathlessness and you are in a remote village where the nearest hospital is two hours away?

This app by the American Red Cross provides individuals a step-by-step guide on what to do when placed in these emergency situations and more. It also provides a checklist and what you need to do in the event of a disaster like an earthquake, a flu pandemic or tsunami. It also contains short but informative quizzes that measure your knowledge of particular situations. For example, what are the common symptoms associated with an impending heart attack?

The app also locates the nearest hospital, but only if you are based in the United States.

2. Baby Immunization Tracker by Sisoft

Pneumonia and diarrhea are the two leading — but preventable — causes of death for children under 5. In many cases, these children die because they do not have access to vaccines.

But availability of services is only one of several factors to consider to make sure children receive their vaccinations. One issue that UNICEF raises is that some families are “uninformed or misinformed about when and why to bring their children for immunization.”

The Baby Immunization Tracker, developed by Sisoft Technologies, an India-based mobile application firm, is a simple but functional tool that allows users to track infants’ immunization needs and schedules. Users can input a child’s name, birth date, gender and other basic information into the app, along with a picture if they like. After that, the app will automatically generate an immunization schedule for the child, identifying which vaccines are needed for which gestation period, notifying users on due dates and if they missed their child’s immunization schedule — a useful tool for aid workers keeping track of immunizations for children in a specific area or camp, or in reminding parents of their children’s vaccination schedule.

The app also includes a bonus feature on proper feeding for children depending on their age.

The app references the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, but the developers note the app should be used in consultation with doctors.

3. EyeSnellen by Steve Colley

The World Health Organization estimates there are more than 200 million visually impaired people worldwide. While some are blind, others experience poor vision. But there could be more, and unless they get properly tested, their vision problems could get worse, and any underlying diseases may go unnoticed.

But the problem is that about 90 percent of people having problems with their eyesight are located in low-income settings. This means most of them don’t have access to doctors or live far from health centers where they can have their eyes checked. Worse, many of them may not even afford to have their eyes checked.

EyeSnellen, developed by Steve Colley, an ophthalmologist from Perth, Australia, aims to tackle these obstacles by being available on a portable gadget like the iPad and the iPhone.

The app displays the Snellen chart or the traditional tool ophthalmologists use in clinics to test a person’s visual acuity. A paper published at the Journal of Mobile Technology in Medicine in July 2014 found that the app is equivalent to the traditional Snellen chart when used at a distance of 6 meters, and noted that the app can be a useful tool in remote settings.

But the app is only available on the Apple’s App Store and requires both an iPhone or iPod and an iPad for use — the iPad for the chart display, and the iPhone or iPod to function as a remote control via Bluetooth.

Do you use any of these apps? How helpful have they been to your work, and are there other free mobile health applications you are using to help you in your development work? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.