While much of the discussion in Twitter forums and the like focuses on U.S.-based e-health use, here and there stories crop up of intriguing ways e-health technologies can help transform healthcare in developing nations. This week, we got a more comprehensive look at the global picture.
The World Health Organization has just issued a report outlining the rapid pace at which mobile health use is expanding in low- and medium-income countries around the world. In many of these nations, mobile health programs are emerging, in part because public use of computers and mobile phones is increasing, the WHO notes.
The WHO report focuses on privately-funded programs, as reliable government data is difficult to obtain. The private data WHO uses comes from the Center for Health Market Innovations, which has been collecting data on public health programs in developing nations since 2007.
By U.S. standards, mhealth programs in developing countries are still in their infancy. Only 176 of the 657 the public health programs WHO looked at in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and VietNam were using communications tech to improve healthcare.
Among the main technologies providers used were telehealth-related, given that in many cases patients were a long distance away from any form of direct care. For example, “video chat” programs and phone hotlines offering access to doctors are emerging quickly. Key conditions addressed by telehealth programs are emergency care, tuberculosis, mental health, malaria, general primary care, maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS.
While these programs show promise, there’s one roadblock which isn’t likely to go away quickly — money. Apparently, about half of the mhealth activity tracked by the report is funded by private sources, which limits their growth. Also, text-driven programs which have worked well in the U.S. and other industrialized nations aren’t nearly as effective, as many residents of these countries are illiterate.