During my time in Africa and the diaspora community, I often hear of people that have passed away inexplicably. Occasionally, you will hear people suggesting it is witchcraft or some other kind of underhand tactic, but invariably it is just a lack of health care expertise or inability to get treatment in time. In a time when, in the UK, the NHS is bending under financial pressure, health care systems across the African continent are no where near adequately meeting demand. On Average, physicians amount to just 2.7 for a population of 10,000 and of course in some areas it is far more than that. The world wide average is 13.9 for a population of 10,000. (I took these figures from here, which has a plethora of interesting statistics on African health)
I have long since thought that with mobile technology becoming more and more sophisticated and the fact that more and more people in Africa have access to a mobile phone, that this will create substantial change across the continent. (In Zimbabwe, there are actually more mobile phones than people!) Medic mobile, a not for profit organisation, is enabling doctors and nurses to register pregnancies, track disease outbreaks, keep stock of medicines, and communicate with patients who may have to walk over 100 km just to get into the surgery. And all this using a basic mobile phone! In the example they give in this article, volunteer would walk 35 kilometres a day just to check on patience and then bring the information back to the surgery. With information sent through mobile phones to a system, which is easily downloaded independently at health centres or hospitals, the feedback can be much quicker, which will save lives.
Mobile phones are helping the fight for good health service in other ways. M-Pesa has already revolutionised banking in Kenya by enabling people to conduct banking transactions on their phones. It is estimated that between 25 and 30% of Kenya’s GDP passes through M-Pesa. With the funds going into a special trust fund they have had the financial ability to push capital into investing in a health care solution. M-Tiba has been set up by Safaricom as a solution for health care payments. It enables individuals to store funds to be used specifically for health care payments, for them or their families. It is a great way of enabling people to save money for when they need it the most. Customers are encouraged to transfer each month to M-Tiba by being offered a 50 ksh bonus if they load on 100 ksh or more. Another great part of the deal is that users are automatically signed up for personal accident cover, which can cover some of the costs of death by accident or disability caused by an accident. M-Tiba will use the interest used from the money in the system in order to finance other investments. This article gives a little more insight.
The shortage of health workers across the continent is a huge problem. With budgets straining and limited places in medical school or nurses training, it is hard to reduce the ratio between doctors and patience. AMREF, an NGO, have found a solution to this. They use mobile technology to train health volunteers. So far, according to the website, they have trained over 3000 community health volunteers, which means a reach of about 300,000 community members in Kenya. Their ambition is to enrol every community health worker onto the mobile learning platform. This will enable health care professionals to keep up to date on new medicines and procedures. If this program is rolled out across the continent, and more organisations offer e-learning to health care professionals, it can make a massive difference to the health of the continent.
With smart phones now with built in heard rate sensors, and fitness bands offering more and more complex data regarding health, there will be more and more opportunities for mobile phone technology to enhance the health of Africa. Does anyone know of any other mobile technologies improving health in Africa? Please let me know via a comment here or via twitter @inventiveafrica
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