Mobile Health Tech Yet To Reach Its Full Life Saving Potential in Africa

Written by Staff

From The Huffington Post

In 2002, between graduating high school and starting my post-secondary education in medical studies, I worked for ten months in strenuous manual labor at a corn factory in the Kasese District, in Western Uganda. Using the savings from that work, I was able to buy myself a brand new Ericsson T10 mobile phone. Acquiring my first electronic gadget elevated me to the first million Ugandans who were “tech-savvy”, able to make calls and send text messages. Owning a phone then was expensive. Handsets were the same price as an acre of land in city suburbs, and in addition, one had to pay a monthly $4 service fee to keep his phone connected to a network, as well as airtime fees.

In 2015, there are 17 million active mobile phone subscribers, more than 80% of the adult population, distributed widely across the country. This has been facilitated by the availability of cheap smartphones as well as favourable prices for voice and data. The overwhelming success of mobile solutions, especially Mobile Money, has demonstrated that a cell phone is the most practical technology in Africa. With our health indicators looking bleak, inspired technologists became motivated to find digital mobile health solutions to Africa and other low resource regions around the world.

Hack-a-thons, incubation spaces, design competitions and other initiatives have resulted in many innovations taking on problems in areas such as data management and disease surveillance. However, despite the many phones, apps, and other electronic medical devices available, the lingering question remains: why are these technologies not yet offering maximum impact to the patient, the doctor and the health system as a whole?

Medicine is a practice taught by apprenticeship. This practice is heavily guarded, more like a secret society, swearing by the Hippocratic Oath to enter and abide by strict protocols and guidelines. The practice is standardized world-over and medical professionals are kept updated through journals, conferences and peer review meetings. Every new approach proposed is weighed against the existing proven method, and the “council of elders” approves or disapproves its usage. In total contrast, the world of technology is very liberal, totally free of restriction.

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