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| Human World on Jul 12, 2010

Patricia Mechael on mHealth, or mobile health, in Africa

Health care workers are using cell phones to improve the health of pregnant women and babies in small villages in ten African countries.

Health care workers are using cell phones to improve the health of pregnant women and babies in small villages in Kenya, Ethiopa, Rwanda, and seven other African countries. EarthSky spoke with Dr. Patricia Mechael, an advisor on mHealth, or mobile health, for the U.N.’s Millennium Villages Project.

Patricia Mechael: In many areas you might not have roads, but you’ll have the telecommunications networks.

Mechael is working on a mobile health program called Child Count Plus, launched in January 2010. It uses cellphones to help monitor the health of pregnant women, newborns, and children under 5. Mechael told us that when community health workers make routine visits to a household, they communicate health information about pregnant women and babies to the Child Count Plus central location. Child Count Plus texts back with recommended health advice. According to the U.N., Africa is the continent that’s experiencing the fastest growth in cellphone use. Mechael said the spread of mobile technology across these developing African nations happened more or less organically.

Patricia Mechael: It’s not an infrastructure that NGOs and development agencies have to put in place. There are market forces that are driving the spread of the networks themselves, but also the prioritization of individuals to buy mobile phones. So what we’re trying to do is capitalize on that.

Mechael predicted that in a few years, health services using cell phones will be commonplace in the developing world.