Why mHealth tech must advance in Africa, other emerging areas

Cellphones and smartphones are valuable and practical healthcare tools for Africa and other emerging areas, yet mHealth technology is not advancing as fast into the continent's medical care system as it should, given challenges that need to be eliminated, says a global ambassador for Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD).

"More awareness and investment is required to overcome the issues which have limited the impact of potentially life-saving mobile technology in Africa," writes John B. Niwagaba, M.D., in a blog post at Huffington Post. Niwagaba served as Africa's regional manager for the International Diabetes Federation. InSTEDD was founded in 2006 from the TED Prize, and, with startup funding from Google and the Rockefeller Foundation, has established innovation labs to spur collaborative engineering practices and entrepreneurial innovation in those regions.

Niwagaba believes that melding mHealth tools and medicine to help Africa's population could reverse negative health trends and drive mHealth to reach its potential as a life-saving strategy.

"If this were to happen, the tech labs would generate rapid prototypes that would be tested faster in the field to judge their effectiveness and safety. Doctors could enhance the complementarity of technology to medicine and not look at technologists as alien or competitors," Niwagaba writes.

The Ebola crisis, as FierceMobileHealthcare reported in the past year, put a major spotlight on how mobile technology can prove invaluable in fighting disease and providing needed healthcare treatment to rural parts of Africa.

The battle to stem spread of the deadly disease last fall spurred the World Health Organization, UNICEF and a North Carolina nonprofit to develop a mobile communications platform for faster and more accurate data sharing among health workers. What's more, during the crisis, Nigerian leaders applauded a social media campaign and an Android reporting app for playing a vital role in containing and eradicating Ebola from the country.

A Brookings report published last spring revealed mHealth tech, tools and devices are boosting patient care and treatment strategies, from preventing maternal health issues to battling Ebola in Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone in Africa.

But Niwagaba believes much more can and should be done with mHealth in Africa, and says peer-reviewed tools would drive physician adoption of mHealth tech.

"Doctors could enhance the complementarity of technology to medicine and not look at technologists as alien or competitors," he says. "Until we create new spaces and opportunities for this type of exchange, digital mobile health technologies in Africa will show promise, but never reach their full life-saving potential."

For more information:
- read the blog post at Huffington Post