There are great benefits to integrating primary health care and electronic medical systems into mobile health (m-health) services, says Rob Allen, who is the manager of the hi4life programme at HIVSA.
“Through the support of the Elton John Aids Foundation, HIVSA has developed a unique set of services through its new m-health brand, hi4LIFE. These services, supporting the National Department of Health, allow all South African’s to access relevant, up-to-date health information on various health topics including HIV, TB and maternal mother and child health,” says Allen.
“There are enormous opportunities available to partners in making these services more interactive and user friendly resulting in increased usage for network operators, using m-health as a direct marketing and advertising platform and ultimately for achieving better health outcomes for everyone in South Africa.”
To access the hi4LIFE m-health services a publicised number is dialed which directs the caller to various information menus, through which a topic of interest can be selected.
In return the caller will receive a set of SMSes on this topic.
“You can also go to mobile optimised Web sites, in the case of hi4LIFE there is or, and access instant information on specific areas of concern, ask questions or comment. We also have voice lines and Mxit applications in development.”
Allen will share the South African non-profit organisation’s experiences with the implementation of its m-health service at the upcoming Mobile Health Africa 2012 in Johannesburg in May.
“It is our vision, that through the hi4LIFE platform, anyone, including health care professionals, should be able to access relevant, up to date, accurate information on any health subject, privately, anytime, anywhere. We believe, and this is only the beginning, that there are great benefits to integrating primary health care and electronic medical systems into m-health services.”
According to Allen, most of the challenges to user uptake of m-health services involve costs, both perceived and real, and both for the provider and the user.
“In South Africa there are very few opportunities to provide ‘free to user’ cell phone based services. The ‘free’ services are immensely popular as one would expect but any cost to a user is a severe barrier to user uptake.”
Allen’s presentation at the upcoming Mobile Health Africa 2012 will be one of dozens of case studies and success stories by organisations and companies that are leading the development of m-health initiatives on the continent.
The event which will provide the perfect platform for the establishment of the business models and partnerships needed to build sustainable and scalable m-health services throughout Africa.
Other organisations and companies who will be there include UNICEF, the Grameen Foundation, AMREF, Waha International, HIV/SA, USAID, UNFPA, Vodacom, Safaricom and HP.
Mobile Health Africa 2012 is part of the Connected Africa Forum, which will showcase the evolution of mobile lifeline services and applications in Africa, and highlight the evolving intersection between mobile money, mobile health and mobile agriculture.