mHealth, mobile finance fuel each other's growth

Mobile health and mobile financial services have the potential to improve both the "health and wealth" of underprivileged populations throughout the world when leveraged together appropriately, a paper released last week by the mHealth Alliance and the World Economic Forum concludes. 

The paper focuses on the rapid expansion of mobile communications as a starting point, citing that by 2012, 1.7 billion people will have mobile phones, but no bank account. "Of those individuals, approximately 1 billion will also lack access to healthcare systems," the paper's authors write. 

Because both services share similar foundations with regard to technology and business operations, the authors see an opportunity for parallel growth. Essentially, as more people engage in mHealth, the need for Mobile Financial Services (MFS) is enhanced in order to pay for such services; both industries feed into each other, helping each one grow and, in turn, helping a poorer community to begin to stabilize. 

Specifically, the authors make a case for their argument by looking at an entire maternal health cycle. They start at pre-pregnancy, indicating that patients can receive education on family planning via paid-for mobile updates, and go beyond a baby's birth, where infant immunizations can be paid for via direct mobile payments. 

"Recognizing these synergies and working cross-sector, stakeholders in both industries are positioned to achieve greater impact, ultimately establishing a more robust ecosystem for servicing the needs of the poor," the authors write. 

What's more, such digitization can help to increase transparency and cut back on crime, according to the authors. Less money is pocketed, they say, because fewer entities are involved in payment processes as a whole. And with an auditable digital trail, the incentive to steal money decreases as the chances of getting caught increase. 

"If key stakeholders within the mHealth and MFS sectors work together to take advantage of the efficiencies and innovations that can be created with a balanced ecosystem, we will advance one step toward realizing the vision of ‘curing the world's poor for less than a dollar a day,'"  the authors write.

To learn more:
- here's the paper (.pdf)
- here's the accompanying announcement