Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mobile networks to bring health relief to Africa

Surging investments in mobile networks in Africa are expected to lead to a sharp increase in the usage of cellular infrastructure to improve health services.

The World Bank has recently announced an investment of $63.66 million in a regional network of 25 public health laboratories in Africa. The network will improve access to diagnostic services. The new multi-country laboratory network will help identify potentially devastating disease outbreaks at an early stage and enable African countries to act quickly and prevent the rapid spread of diseases across borders.

Among others, the new network will support the roll-out of new technology for drug resistance monitoring and provide for more efficient tuberculosis diagnosis most notably for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The project will include web-based knowledge sharing, e-learning modules, and health alerts. The project also supports joint training and capacity building across countries, joint operational research, regional coordination, and program management.

In the majority of African countries, penetration rates of mobile telephony stand at a moderate 25% creating a potential market of 500 million new subscribers. The potential is already attracting multinational mobile operators, who seek growth away from their stagnated markets.

A recent report in This is Africa illustrates how much potential there still is in Africa. It shows the case of the mobile market in Zimbabwe in which the subscriber base of local operator Econet more than tripled in 2009 from 1.2 million to 4 million.

The BBC has recently forecasted that the explosion of mobile use in developing countries will help transform health care. It gave as an example the story of DataDyne, which uses mobiles to gather information about vaccination rates and instances of HIV in Kenya.

According to Joel Selanikio, co-founder of DataDyne, while internet access via desktop or laptop computers is not readily available to all, many people, even in the developing world, have a mobile phone.

"We haven't even begun to realize what it means when every health worker, every schoolteacher, when literally everyone has a connection to the internet," Selanikio told The Guardian. "People underestimate the effects this change is having. I think it will rival the printing press for its effects on society."

Since DataDyne's software, episurveyor, became a mobile web application, its business has exploded with 2,000 downloads across 120 countries. With a company staff of just 10, this growth wouldn't have been possible if the software wasn't easy to use.

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