Jeffrey Sachs, a keynote speaker at the Unite For Sight Global Health & Innovation Conference, stated that “the cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development.”(1) In fact, over the past few years there has been an explosion in the development of mobile technology in such areas as agriculture, business management, and healthcare. In the burgeoning field of mHealth, mobile technology is being used to provide rapid diagnostics, collect public health data, improve patient adherence to drug regimens, influence patients to adopt healthier behaviors, and increase the efficacy of community health workers (CHWs).
For example, Matt Berg, another speaker at the Unite For Sight Global Health & Innovation Conference and one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010, has developed a system called ChildCount+ that has been used by community health workers in Kenya to improve healthcare services for vulnerable children. After identifying and treating conditions in ill children, CHWs send text messages to the project’s headquarters about the child’s health status. They provide details about malnutrition, malaria, and diarrheal disease. This technology can also be used to monitor the course of pregnancy for expecting mothers. This mobile system is used to monitor health in the communities, and it is also used in immunization campaigns, as well as rapid interventions for those in need.
Rich Fletcher, who will also be speaking at the conference, is a research scientist at MIT Media Lab working in the field of mobile technologies for health interventions. He and others have been developing a mobile-phone based device to aid patients with panic-anxiety disorders, addictions, and chronic diseases. Wireless biosensors attached to the patient convey physiological information to the mobile phone-based software, which can deliver interventions with texts, images, sound files, and social networking elements. A similarly designed device can be used to monitor the physiological states of infants and to alert parents to changes in sleep, arousal, distress, or discomfort.
It is essential that new technologies are made available to developing countries so as not to exacerbate existing global inequalities in wealth and health. However, making the devices available is not all that must be done. John Gage of Sun Microsystems aptly notes, “Technology is easy. People are hard.”(2) Design thinking may maximize the implementation and utilization of new devices in resource- and technology-poor areas.
There are a variety of mHealth presentations scheduled at the Unite For Sight Global Health & Innovation Conference:
- "Mobile Potential: Scaling Health Access," Matthew Berg, ICT Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project
- "Wireless Adherence Monitoring Technology," Jessica Haberer, MD, MS, Research Scientist, Harvard Institute for Global Health; Assistant in Health Decision Sciences, Massachusetts General Hospital; Instructor, Harvard Medical School
- "Free mHealth eHealth Software for Rural Hospitals," Bobby Jefferson, Health IT Project Manager, Futures Group
- "Emerging Technologies for Mobile Health," Rich Fletcher, PhD, Research Scientist, MIT Media Lab
- “Global Mobile Surveys," Nathan Eagle, CEO, txteagle Inc; Visiting Assistant Professor, MIT Media Lab; Research Assistant Professor, Northeastern Computer Science; Omidyar Fellow, Santa Fe Institute; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Harvard School of Public Health
- ·Analysis of Gaps and Suggested Solutions for Expanding Implementation of mHealth Globally," Hiliary Critchley, Consultant, Casscells & Associates
- "Medic Mobile: How Text Messages Are Saving Lives in the Developing World," Nadim Mahmud, MS, Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer, Medic Mobile; Medical Student, Stanford Medical School; Student, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
(1) Ewing, Jack. “Upwardly Mobile in Africa.” Bloomberg Business Week. 24 September 2007. Accessed on 22 February 2011. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_39/b4051054.htm
(2) Haqqani, Abdul Basit, ed. The Role of Information and Communication Technologies in Global Development: Analysis and Policy Recommendations. Geneva: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2005. GoogleBooks. 22 February 2011.