Feature Rural Health

Can mobile phones transform healthcare in low and middle income countries?

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h1975 (Published 22 April 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1975
  1. Sophie Arie, journalist, London
  1. sarie{at}bmj.com

Mobile technology has the potential to put rural populations in touch with formal health services for the first time, but is the buzz around mobile health justified, asks Sophie Arie

More than 21% of new HIV infections in Zambia arise from mother to child transmission. Specialised treatment can increase chances of survival by up to 75% if started before the baby is 12 weeks old. But until recently it took almost that long (66 days on average) to send blood samples from rural areas to a laboratory and to get the test results back.

Thanks to mobile phones the situation is changing. Under a government programme called Mwana, supported by Unicef and other international organisations, newborn babies in Zambia can be tested for HIV in half that time.1 It can still take some 30 days for blood samples to reach the laboratory, but now it takes only a few seconds for results to come back, by text message, to rural health clinics.

Mobile phone use has spread fast in Africa, with more than 80% of households now having access.2 Millions of geographically isolated people in low and middle income countries, many of whom have never seen a doctor, can now contact the health services they need when they need them, at least in theory. As call prices fall and network coverage improves, can mobile health, or m-health, transform some of the world’s weakest health systems, saving millions of lives?

Many are hopeful

“M-health will be the future of healthcare in Africa, no doubt about …

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