mHealth Summit: Cell phones help address maternal, child health

This week, FierceMobileHealthcare is at the mHealth Summit, a high-level, international, somewhat academic meeting of the minds in Washington, D.C. Last week, conference organizers, including the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health and the mHealth Alliance--made up of the United Nations Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Vodafone Foundation--previewed the event for media by discussing mobile health projects and potential from around the globe.

To wit: About 90 percent of the world's population lives in range of a wireless telephone signal, RedOrbit reports, and 70 percent of the 5 billion cell phone subscribers are in developing countries. The mHealth Alliance expects that 60 percent of phones in use worldwide in 2015 will be able to access the web. "These networks are being extended almost everywhere. People are paying for the devices and the service, which shows that people value access to information and the ability to communicate, and that includes health information and communication," mHealth Alliance chief David Aylward said, according to RedOrbit.

Already, more than 100 countries take advantage of mobile health technologies in some form. "The information technology is not revolutionary. Its use in health is," Julian Schweitzer, chair of the Finance Working Group for the UN Secretary-General's Global Strategy for Women's and Children's Health, said.

"We are talking about applying in healthcare the same kinds of sophisticated information systems that most businesses use, extending them with wireless to reach everyone. In low and middle-income countries, we have the opportunity to leap frog the developed world and do it right. This is a huge opportunity," Schweitzer added.

Schweitzer is looking to m-health to address two of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, namely reducing child and maternal mortality. (On Monday at the mHealth Summit, Babatunde Osotimehim, a medical professor from Nigeria who's involved in a program to improve maternal and infant health, noted that 1,000 women die during childbirth every day worldwide.)

Still, not enough data exists to prove that m-health has helped improve child and maternal health, a couple of speakers said. But soon, there won't be any question. "We won't be talking about mobile health in 2015," according to Patricia Mechael, a researcher at the Earth Institute, a Columbia University organization that is working with developing countries on meeting the Millennium Development Goals. "By then, we won't need to pull it out and talk about it and examine it because it will be a fully accepted tool for healthcare."

For further details:
- take a look at this RedOrbit story