Health Tech Is Successful in Developing Countries

Anesthesiologist with cellphone nearby

Pascal Deloche / Getty Images

There are more cell phones on the planet than there are toilets or toothbrushes. Most of the global population now has access to a mobile phone and a mobile signal. Although existing technology available today is far from a remedy for solving modern problems, there has never before been more potential for building personal connections and using new technologies in purposeful ways. Many would agree that technology is increasing the quality of life for many peolpe.

In countries where access to health care is difficult and infrastructure is poor, "mHealth" can play an important role in bridging the divide between the developed and developing world.

With the help of the ubiquitous mobile phone, diseases are now easier to diagnose and track, information can be disseminated quicker and reach more people, and online health education is more readily available to citizens in developing nations that are traditionally underserved.

Receiving Health Text Messages Worldwide

For the developing world, digital communication as a mechanism for health information can provide many benefits.

Short Message Services (SMS) are now being widely used to educate people and provide them with health information on best practices. For example, across Africa, text messages are sent to cell phone users regarding prevention and education about HIV/AIDS, and in India, women receive SMS text reminders to conduct breast self-examinations.

Researchers from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom recently conducted a systematic study of mobile phone use during an illness in rural China and India. The findings suggest that, generally, mobile phone use is associated with better access to health care. However, there were also some negative outcomes, such as higher expenses for unnecessary treatments and more pronounced health marginalization of those without mobile phones.

Technology for Remote Areas

Digital health efforts in the developing world are making health care more accessible to those in remote areas. In areas where there might be no running water or electricity, but there is a mobile signal, examinations and tests can be performed and interpreted with the help of digital technology.

For example, images of suspicious tissue can be taken with a cell phone and sent to an expert at a local hospital (or abroad) for inspection and treatment opinions. In remote areas of Botswana, cervical cancer diagnoses have been possible by using patients' digital images that were submitted to an expert gynocologist.

Knowledge, too, can travel a lot faster with the help of digital technology and novel ways of communicating. A digital communication platform can easily bring health resources to professionals and patients in developing countries and even increase the chances of survival for some patients.

Studies among health professionals in the developing world also show that training and supervision will be required to fully utilize the potential of mHealth initiatives. More effort can be expected in this domain in the coming years.

Innovations From the Developing World

Not all innovation starts in the West and gets exported to other parts of the world. General Electric's Vscan is a portable ultrasound that can be plugged into a laptop and is a low-cost device that can be used in rural areas. The innovation is available in the United States, signaling a new trend of health innovation coming from developing countries penetrating more developed markets.

 

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