Africa embraces mobile app health revolution
The application of mobile technologies in Africa’s healthcare system, popularly known as mHealth, has gained momentum in recent months. Nigeria, the region’s most populous country, for example, managed to contain the deadly Ebola virus in October 2014 partly due to the application of mHealth. Nigerian health officials attribute the success to fast communication and instant tracking made possible by the proactive use of mobile phone technology. by UNICEF Innovation Labs and Nyuruka - a Rwandan software firm. mHero (Mobile Health Worker Ebola Response and Outreach), one of the apps on RapidPro, is currently being used in Liberia in support of local efforts to combat Ebola. The app reports on new cases, broadcasts messages about care and prevention and shares training information, thereby allowing real-time coordination between the health ministry and frontline health workers.
“Emerging technologies can facilitate early warning systems, outbreak response, and communication between healthcare providers, wildlife veterinarians and other animal health professionals, local and national health authorities, and international health agencies,” wrote Rashid Ansumana, Jesse Bonwitt, David A. Stenger and Kathryn H. Jacobsen, four Sierra Leone-based researchers in the medical journal The Lancet.
While the application of mobile technologies in Ebola response is currently in the spotlight, mHeath apps could also potentially address other important public health issues, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and maternal health, according to a study by the World Health Organization.
In Zambia, for instance, U-Report, another UNICEF mHealth tool, uses simple text messages and basic mobile phones to link people to the resources of the National AIDS Council. UNICEF and the health ministry rely on the SMS tool to spread messages about HIV/AIDS. Since its initial launch in 2012, over 50,000 young people have been referred to anonymous counselling services, and voluntary testing among U-reporters has reached 40%, which is significantly higher than the 24% national average, according to UNICEF.
Young Zambians can now receive and share information on HIV/AIDS and other STIs through their mobile phones.