International News

Project Launched to Improve Health Care in Developing Countries Through Mobile, Computer Technology

February 20, 2009

The Rockefeller Foundation, the Vodafone Foundation and the United Nations Foundation recently launched the Mobile Health Alliance, or mHealth, in an effort to improve health care in developing countries through mobile and computer technology, VOA News reports. The announcement came during the Mobile World Congress held this week in Barcelona, Spain. Claire Thwaites, head of the U.N. and Vodafone Technology Partnership, said that technology has many health applications, such as text messaging programs to improve public awareness about diseases like HIV/AIDS or malaria. She added that mobile support could be used to bolster public health campaigns, adding, "Then you get to more sophisticated uses of mobile to support consultation and remote diagnosis, as well as being able to communicate with health workers, which there's a huge lack of in the developing world." Thwaites noted that mobile and computer technology could help achieve targets in the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals regarding diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria (VOA News, 2/18).

According to AFP/, a study by the U.N. foundation and Vodafone -- called "mHealth for Development: The Opportunity of Mobile Technology for Healthcare in the Developing World" -- examined 51 programs in 26 countries that used technology in the health field. It found that India with 11 projects and South Africa and Uganda with six projects each had made the largest advances. For example, a project in Uganda used text messages to send a quiz about HIV/AIDS to 15,000 mobile phone subscribers in a rural region, asking them to participate in the quiz to receive free air time for correct answers. The quiz also included a final message motivating participants to be tested for HIV at a local health center. The number of people undergoing testing at the local health care center increased from 1,000 to 1,400 during a six-week period, according to the report (AFP/, 2/18).

Adele Waugaman, a spokesperson for the U.N. foundation, said, "There are a couple of interesting benefits the project brought to light. One of them is the benefit of talking to people in their local language," adding that in countries with widespread HIV/AIDS-related stigma, text messaging provides a "new form of access that addresses these stigmatization and privacy concerns." Thwaites told conference attendees that there is "a real need to have an alliance" between nongovernmental organizations, governments and corporations to harness these benefits, BBC News reports (Palmer, BBC News, 2/17). Daniel Carucci, vice president of health at the U.N. foundation, said that technology could "reduce the pressure on public health care systems" (AFP/, 2/18). The mHealth Alliance is expected to host a conference by the end of the year to invite people from both the private and public sector to participate in the program (VOA News, 2/18).

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