There is a severe shortage of doctors, nurses, health workers and drugs in rural East Africa. Many patients never see a doctor or visit a clinic and those who do visit one often do not receive the care and treatment they deserve due to lack of resources. Thousands of people, mostly children, die from mistreatment (and sometimes from no treatment) of illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, dehydration, malnutrition and malaria.
Healthcare is usually one of the largest public budgetary expenses. Improved information systems that for example track and coordinate service delivery, establish accountability, and manage patients for better health outcomes, can increase efficiency. The lack of resources and infrastructure prevents health workers from delivering efficient healthcare to rural areas and mobile phones are often claimed to be
“the appropriate and sustainable platform for rural healthcare in Africa [...] Commonly proposed uses are for data collection, and decision support for rural health workers. Some projects also use mobile devices as a platform for information dissemination as well as data gathering”
m-Health can be defined as the delivery of health care services via mobile communication devices. Mobile technology has been piloted and implemented in a range of health related areas and is one of the most developed fields in m-applications. With high mobile penetration and insufficient infrastructure, the potential impact and opportunity of successful m-health applications in the region is high. If applied right, mobile solutions can increase the quality of life for patients, simplify and improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery models and reduce costs for healthcare providers. However, the mobile ecosystem needs to be fully utilised and the different roles of the regulatory, handset manufacturers, operators, healthcare professionals, NGO’s etc. needs to be established.
The two major innovations in m-health are applications that support information dissemination and platforms that support mobile data collection. Applications intended to reach a mass consumer audience tend to rely on simple, ubiquitous formats like SMS and usually works on any low-end phone. These applications however require access to the target population’s phone numbers and a solid business plan, i.e. who will pay for the SMS traffic? As m-health applications move from one-way data towards more interaction and clinical services, e.g. various data collection applications used by health workers, the technical capabilities increase and more advanced, Java enabled phones are needed. This leads to higher costs and more training requirements.