A cellphone. Small-scale pilots have proven that mobile health can improve medical outcomes in the developing world. Photo by: Erik Hersman / CC BY

Small-scale pilots have proven that mobile health can improve medical outcomes in the developing world. A new public-private partnership is about to kick into gear to help bring those initiatives to scale.

The mHealth Alliance, which is coordinating the seven-week old mPowering Frontline Health Workers initiative with support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, will convene a technical advisory group of nongovernmental organization experts on Monday (Aug. 6) to start strategizing.

Next steps include choosing three developing “focus countries” — most likely where partners have existing activities  and hiring more staff. The alliance will appoint technological advisory groups for each of the focus countries it selects.

Tech companies, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, foundations and businesses are all participating in the alliance, and there is room for other partners, according to Sandhya Rao, a senior adviser for private sector partnerships at USAID’s Bureau for Global Health.

The mPowering initiative is a bit different from other mHealth initiatives in its focus on identifying sustainable financing models to help scale up prototypes and technologies that have already proven successful at a smaller scale.

The alliance will survey current mobile health content, then see how much demand exists for other features — like animated videos explaining best practices in breast-feeding that could be dubbed in various languages. Then it will crowdsource the next generation of content, be it video, multimedia or anything else, by incentivizing developers with competitions. Content will be stored in the cloud for health workers to access wherever they are.

This approach will help reduce inefficiencies by preventing duplicative work by health governments and other actors, Rao said.

In the end, the mPowering initiative is meant to serve as a “low-touch consultancy,” a place to share tools, processes, best practices and lessons learned with the wider global health community and partner governments. It’ll be a global library with shareable, adaptable content that practitioners around the world can download, according to Rao.

And the initiative may just teach the development community how to engage different and nontraditional stakeholders, and how to make the evidence-based case for big business to get involved and invest in development.

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About the author

  • Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a former Devex global development reporter based in Washington, D.C. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.