In her keynote address at the 2012 mHealth Summit, which for the first time included a Global Health Track, mHealth Alliance executive director Patty Mechael said that mHealth has “transitioned from a novel idea to a strategy for global health.” She also said that 2013 would be the “year for scale,” to which I would add the ‘year of integration’, because mHealth is increasingly being applied as a game-changing approach for empowering individuals as well as strengthening health systems. There is an evolution along at least two dimensions: from initial pilots to programs with broad national or multi-regional reach, and from single-solution applications to multi-function catalysts of health system interventions.
For example, in the category of client-centered mHealth, the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) provides free or low-cost text (SMS) or voice messages for pregnant women related to each stage of pregnancy and a baby’s first year. In Bangladesh, MAMA is known as Aponjon, which means “close friend.” Aponjon service was launched in September 2011 in four districts with 1,000 subscribers. It started to scale nationally in August 2012, with the aim of reaching more than two million mothers by 2015.
In “Health Workforce Capacity Development,” iHeed CEO Dr. Tom O Callaghan noted that each year, approximately 160,000 doctors are trained in Europe for a population of around 1 billion people, while in Sub-Saharan Africa for the same population size about 5,000 doctors are trained. Over the past 20 years, about 500,000 community health workers (CHWs) have been trained across Sub-Saharan Africa at a very high cost. Yet, there are 700 million mobile phones in Africa, about a billion people on Facebook, 300 million on Skype, and cheap tablets are increasingly available. “Aspirations to train another 1,000 or 10,000 CHWs seem very bland compared to the scale being achieved by other technology ventures,” O Callaghan said, suggesting that mHealth can aim much higher, training health workers and supporting their performance in innovative ways. In fact, emerging evidence indicates the potential of mHealth to positively impact multiple aspects of health systems, including adherence to treatment guidelines, supply chain management, and data collection and reporting.