Mobile connectivity: Revolutionizing the health sector and access to care

mhealth blog image 2Mobile innovations are growing at an exponential rate. For example, a new attachment for your smartphone can perform an on-screen visual test of your eyes, and Google has also developed a smart contact lens that can monitor blood-sugar levels on a continuous basis to help its wearer better manage diabetes. A dongle attached to a smartphone can within 15 minutes detect infectious diseases, such as HIV, from a tiny drop of blood from your finger.

Consequently, the global m-health market is expected to reach USD 10.2 billion by 2018 (from USD 1.3 billion in 2012) and the global m-health wearables technology market is predicted to hit USD 16.1 billion by the end of 2015. Some experts predict the venture community could invest more money in digital health than in biotech in 2015.

The promise is in the ability of m-health applications to lower costs – up to USD 400 billion by 2017 according to a 2013 study from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and GSMA. What I find most exciting is the ability of m-health initiatives to provide better access to healthcare services, especially in geographic areas where health infrastructure and doctors are scarce. In turn, better access to remote consultations, diagnosis, and basic information creates a more health-aware population. The 2013 PwC and GSMA study estimated that 1 million lives in Sub-Saharan Africa could be saved in 5 years by m-health initiatives that assist patients with treatment plans, and help aid workers monitor medication availability and follow treatment guidelines.

A few years ago, Alcatel-Lucent made a commitment to improving healthcare access, focusing on diabetes within emerging and developing countries. Diabetes is a rising life-threatening disease and one of the biggest health challenges of the 21st century; it claims one life every 6 seconds and is growing at an alarming rate.  Diabetes affects 4 out of 5 people living in developing countries, leading to complications such as blindness, amputation, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and life threatening short-term complications such as severe hypoglycemia.

In July 2014, Alcatel-Lucent partnered on a national project in Senegal, developed under the leadership of the local health authorities and the UN “Be He@lthy Be Mobile” initiative from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The multi-stakeholder project also involved private partners (Sanofi, BUPA), mobile operators and non-governmental organizations such as the diabetes eco-system of the country (ASSAD Diabetes patient association, Marc Sankalé Diabetes Expert Center, and others). Additionally, the Ministry of Communication, the e-Government agency of Senegal, and the telecom regulator are involved to ensure sustainability and reach.

The project had a clear objective: to combat diabetes using mobile technology. A pilot was launched during Ramadan 2014; simple tools such as SMS are used to educate the population and health care workers on diabetes prevention, provide tips on diagnosing diabetes, avoiding complications during fasting and other diabetes care advice. The project will grow incrementally over a four year period and will use increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, tools and applications. Starting this year, remote diagnosis tools are available whereby pictures of diabetic wounds can be sent via a smartphone to the Marc Sankalé Diabetes Center. The programme is expected to reach 10,000 people by the end of 2015, and 200,000 persons by 2018.

In May 2015, under the leadership of the Mexican Ministry of Health and the Digital Office of the President, Alcatel-Lucent and partners (Sanofi, Qualcomm, BUPA, Carlos Slim Institute of Health, and Midete Foundation) co-organized a Mobile Health Forum to define a strategy for building m-health solutions in Mexico. The initiative seeks to work with the support of the WHO-ITU “Be He@lthy be Mobile Initiative”. Over 70 per cent of the population in Mexico are classified as overweight or obese. These conditions are major risk factors for chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. To address this crisis, the Mexican Ministry of Health has also launched a National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Overweight, Obesity, and Diabetes aimed at promoting healthier lifestyles, provisioning health care in a timely fashion, and to create a fiscal and regulatory framework that supports a comprehensive approach to the problem. The m-health initiative is expected to have a great impact in strengthening this national strategy and significantly reducing health care costs. PwC estimated in a recent report that m-health has the potential to help an additional 15.5 million people access the healthcare system and could save USD 3.8 billion in Mexico’s healthcare spend by 2017.

I am excited about the possibilities both in Mexico and Senegal and the impact m-health will have on improving people’s lives, and am convinced that a solid base has been established in both countries to deliver true impact and scale.

Many countries are expressing interest in the project. The challenge now resides in figuring out how to efficiently cross-fertilize these initiatives so that all countries can benefit from the experience of what is already being done. The ITU-WHO Be He@lthy Be Mobile Initiative should be congratulated for its engagement in this respect.

This blog was originally posted on the Alcatel-Lucent blog, and has been edited and re-published with the author’s permission. Read the original article here.

Florence Gaudry-Perkins

Florence Gaudry PerkinsFlorence Gaudry-Perkins is currently International Director for Global Government & Public Affairs at the headquarters of Alcatel-Lucent. Her current position entails relations with governments globally, multilateral and bilateral funds, as well as international organizations, an ideal platform to address the economic and social enabling effects of broadband and mobile technology in the developing world. Her past work in higher education and familiarity with global health has influenced her in being a strong advocate of mLearning and mHealth in particular.

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