Real Time Communications Featured Article

mHealth Users to Triple by 2020

February 19, 2016

Digital health initiatives continue to ramp up, and increasingly, mobile tech is a big part of the picture. In fact, the number of individuals using mHealth information services is set to exceed 157 million users by 2020, more than tripling the 50 million for last year.

That’s according to a study from Juniper Research, which forecasts that the adoption of mHealth information services will significantly increase as service providers roll out initiatives to tackle issues such as infant mortality and infectious diseases. SMS, purpose-built apps and interactive voice response services provide vital information to those who cannot access general healthcare services.

The research highlighted initiatives such as the MOTECH Foundation, which aims to implement preventative healthcare by educating the population on issues such as sexual health and pregnancy. Also, UNICEF’s Wearables for Good competition resulted in Khushi Baby, a wearable device containing an individual’s health information.

The research also found that several organizations had adopted a crowdsourcing approach to develop solutions to address the challenges of engaging with and delivering information to end users. For instance, limited access to connected devices and low literacy rates have resulted in many mHealth services being offered through contact centers; the research noted that open source platforms such as Mobile Medic will act a game-changer for emerging markets over the coming years as healthcare workers seek more effective means of service provision in remote areas.

There are also significant commercial barriers to deployment in most markets. It pointed out that many current offerings were exclusively donor-funded, and that only a few services, such as Tanzania’s Wazazi Nipendeni (translated as Love Me, Parents in Swahili), were based on sustainable business models.

The mHealth Tanzania Partnership is an innovative public-private partnership (PPP) led by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of Tanzania. It operates with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as numerous Tanzanian and international public and private sector partners.

The mHealth Tanzania Partnership strengthens the campaign by providing informative text messages and appointment reminders in Swahili at no charge for pregnant women and mothers of newborn babies up to 16 weeks of age, as well as to her supporters (husband, friends and family) and information seekers. The multi-media campaign includes promotion of the free SMS service by listing the short-code on the campaign materials and instructs anyone interested in more free information on healthy pregnancy to send the word ‘MTOTO’ (child) to the short-code.

The stakes are high, as they are for all of these initiatives: The 2010 Tanzania Demographic and Health Survey (TDHS) data showed that, although maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) had seen improvements in Tanzania in the last few decades, Tanzanian women still faced an unacceptably high risk of preventable morbidity and mortality during their reproductive years. The TDHS also revealed that antenatal care (ANC) attendance was often late and incomplete. While 96% of women attended ANC at least once, only 15% received their first ANC visit during their first trimester, and less than half (43%) received the recommended number of four or more ANC visits. Furthermore, only 50% of births occurred in a health facility, and 51% were assisted by a skilled provider. In addition, only about 70% of pregnant women are reportedly reached with prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) interventions. An estimated 1.6 million pregnant women in the country contract malaria annually, and the disease is a contributing factor to both maternal deaths and infant morbidity and mortality.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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