mHealth Africa Summit
1st and 2nd December 2010 in Accra, Ghana
With reported mobile subscriptions to be over 379 million, Africa is home to one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world. Over half of the population in African countries (roughly 70% in Ghana) uses mobile phones. At mHealth Africa Summit around 80 professionals from the mobile industry, health care professionals, Government officials, academia and NGO professionals came together to discuss the potential and the challenges of the role of mobile devices in health delivery. But the real innovators on the ground the health care workers in the field who invent new ways of using the mobile phone were not invited.
After the key note speaker, the HE prof Peter Anyang Nyong ‘o, the Minister of medical Services of Kenya spoke about the future of mHealth the conference started during the day with several interactive panels. The presenters had each a few minutes to present the key issues and after a Q&A session you had more time to speak with them during the breaks. This way you had a quick overview of what is going on in Africa at the moment. My focus was mainly on projects that are on the ground in the countries that we work like MOTECH (mobile technology for community health) in Ghana , a collaboration between the Ghana Health Service, the Grameen foundation, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health that is working to determine how best to use mobile phones to increase the quality and quantity of antenatal and neonatal care in rural Ghana. This could be of interest for SEND Foundation and NAIS, because the use a mobile midwife application for pregnant women with audio messages in local language. They also have a mobile application for nurses with a $40 mobile phone including a patient information systems and sms reminders to patients for reminders of appointments for immunisation of their children. The nurses can see who missed these appointments on their mobile phones. At the end of the month a report is automatically created, which saved a lot of time for the participating nurses.
Management Science for Health (MSH) Director Piers Bocock gave some interesting examples about Malawi especially the Knowledge for Health (K4H) project that focuses on the dissemination of quality information and the connection of Community Health workers at district hospitals. The K4Health mHealth toolkit was also of interest as a good resource on mHealth and what role it can play in reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, Malaria and health data collection.
A third presentation of interest was from Dr Thomas Brennan of Oxford University about mobile medical devices that could be linked to a mobile telephone like a mobile stethoscope that can measure remote heart sound.
What was missing in the conference was an exhibition to see some of the developed projects. The time to present was short in order to show many different pilot projects. Most struggled in their efforts to scale up. This was one of the key discussions of the conference. How to scale up without loosing local ownership and a bottom up approach is difficult with culture as an important factor both in terms of acceptance and attitude towards change. Much efforts are also needed for Policy developments and to implement a business model that makes it sustainable. Open Standards, Government support (en not control) and further deregulation are key for further upscaling to create more impact. With a big hope for the access to glass fibre to make mobile internet better affordable, reliable. The Ghana Health Service is now building their own network to public health facilities in Ghana although maintenance is outsourced to a private contractor. In Kenya the Government also has developed their eHealth / mHealth strategy and are connecting all hospitals to glass fibre. Financial support in this is necessary but available in funds like the Africa Health Fund. Cultural and Policy changes have a higher priority.