mHealth apps tend to focus on deadly diseases in high-income countries

Mobile apps for those diseases and health conditions that are the deadliest in low- and middle-income countries are in shorter supply than those apps for the leading causes of death in high-income countries, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research's mHealth and uHealth.

The aim of the study was to compare the amount of research and the number of mobile apps dedicated to the diseases and conditions that are the leading causes of death, grouped by different income regions globally. The diseases and conditions, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), are: ischemic heart disease; stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases; lower respiratory infections; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; diarrheal diseases; HIV/AIDS; trachea, bronchus, and lung cancers; malaria; and Alzheimer disease and other dementias. 

"In general, apps for common diseases of low- and middle-income countries are not as abundant as those for typical diseases of developed countries," conclude the article's authors. "Nevertheless, there are some exceptions such as HIV/AIDS, due to its important social conscience; and trachea, bronchus and lung cancers, which was totally unexpected."

The results are based on a review of literature and apps stores. For the review of mobile apps in literature, published articles on apps related to the WHO list of diseases were retrieved from four publications: IEEE Xplore, Scopus, Web of Knowledge and PubMed. For the review of mHealth apps, the authors searched four commercial app stores: Google Play, iTunes, BlackBerry World, and Windows Phone Apps+Games. The research located 371 papers and 557 apps related to the leading causes of death.

Not surprisingly, the authors assert that app developers tend to focus on the typical diseases in high-income countries. As a result, the leading cause of death worldwide and in middle- and high-income countries, heart diseases, is one of the most researched. Still, despite the fact that trachea, bronchus and lung cancers are the third cause of death in high-income countries, they are the least researched diseases with regard to apps. In addition, though HIV/AIDS is not one of the worst diseases in terms of mortality in rich countries, it has the attention of developers, the article argues.

In June, the same authors published an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research which found that of the eight most prevalent health conditions globally, diabetes and depression have an overwhelming number of mobile applications and research, while there is a lack of apps and research related to other conditions such as anemia, hearing loss and low vision.

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