Mobile devices are now supporting the practice of medicine and public health in exciting ways. A subset of a larger category known as e-health, which covers all services that involve the electronic transfer of health resources, mHealth has caught the attention of development and business communities alike — a fact reflected in the partnerships that have emerged in the field.
But like any fledgling sector, mHealth has been experiencing some growing pains. A 2014 report on the use of mHealth in West Africa, commissioned as part of the Strengthening Health Outcomes through the Private Sector initiative, detailed several important gaps. For instance, mHealth systems are typically English-based which has obstructed adoption in the largely French speaking West Africa region. Other financial and operational hurdles not unique to the region include: the absence of sustainable models, a small body of evidence on cost effectiveness, a limited capacity to scale up services, a lack of country ownership, and weak signal coverage.
Currently, mHealth is most prominent in Africa and most commonly applied to support maternal health, but it is expanding into other developing countries and health subsectors. According to Devex research, USAID is the most active funder of mHealth projects, although the total amount of aid channeled explicitly to mHealth is difficult to determine because mHealth activities are typically components of larger health projects. Below are a few examples of mHealth initiatives that give a snapshot of donor priorities in the sector.
Improving management of acute malnutrition in Africa
Through the Community Management of Acute Malnutrition app, an mHealth solution developed by World Vision, a USAID-funded initiative involving Dimagi, Inc. and the Grameen Foundation aims to improve the treatment, reporting, monitoring and supply management for acute malnutrition in Africa.
Anna Patricia Valerio is a Manila-based development analyst focusing on writing innovative, in-the-know content for senior executives in the international development community. Before joining Devex, Patricia wrote and edited business, technology and health stories for BusinessWorld, a Manila-based business newspaper.
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