For mHealth success in developing nations, don't overwhelm your audience

While developing countries have been using mobile phones, miniature laptops and diagnostic devices in the health sector for years now, there are many issues that hamper the provision of mHealth systems in these environments. Healthcare providers should consider several factors for designing successful mHealth projects in such areas, according to an article published in XRDS, the Association of Computing Machinery's magazine for students.

Among the article's most salient points is that mHealth is not mass media. Nevertheless, the author points out that many mHealth organizations still are disseminating SMS or calls in the way that television and radio broadcast their content. The article warns against health campaigns bombarding their targeted audience with SMS or calls.

In particular, SMS campaigns tend to work best for awareness of specific events, products and services, according to the article. For example, the author references Project Masiluleke which sent some 300 million "Please call me" messages using the unstructured supplementary service data protocol to South Africans encouraging them to undergo HIV/AIDS tests. The result: the average daily call volume to the National AIDS Help line tripled within a few months of this campaign.

The tremendous value of mobile communications, the article argues, is that it can allow healthcare providers to tailor the delivery of information according to time, geography, desired frequency of messages, and other orientations demanded by the health and social, cultural, and behavioral patterns of the patient. Complicating matters, though, is the fact that business models for curative and preventative health still are evolving in developing countries, where governments may be reluctant to support mHealth projects targeted at preventive healthcare due to contractual obligations or software-as-service models, according to the article. Governments, however, may become convinced as more evidence emerges promoting the benefits of mHealth projects in areas like maternal and child health.

Mobile healthcare is a big part of the United Nations' global strategy to improve the health of women and children in developing countries. Two years ago, the UN Foundation and several partners committed $400 million toward making childbirth safer, vaccinating children, reducing infant mortality and combating malaria, with mHealth.

In Mozambique, the Department of Health has teamed up with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI Alliance), a public-private partnership for immunization, to launch a pilot child immunization project in about 100 clinics in early 2013 where health workers will test the effectiveness and cost benefits of using mobile phones to communicate with parents.

To learn more:
- read the XRDS article