PHONES FOR HEALTH IN AFRICA
Stephen Appiah, Ghana’s national team captain enjoys a half time chat
MOBILE PHONES are being harnessed to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa under a new $10-million scheme announced on Tuesday with the backing of leading companies and the U.S. government.
The "Phones-for-Health" project will use software loaded on to a standard Motorola handset to allow care workers in the field to enter critical health information into a central database in real time.
It will be transmitted using a standard GPRS mobile connection or, where this is not available, via an SMS channel. The idea is to tap into the growing reach of mobile technology, which has leapfrogged older communication systems in many African countries.
Fixed-line telephone and Internet connections are rare across much of the continent, making pen and paper still the principal way of recording the spread of disease.
But more than 60 percent of Africans now live in areas with mobile phone coverage and that figure is expected to rise to 85 percent by 2010, according to the GSM Association, a global trade group representing leading mobile operators.
"The explosive spread of mobile phone networks across the developing world has created a unique opportunity to significantly transform how countries can tackle global health challenges," World Health Organization Assistant Director- General Howard Zucker said.
"People living with HIV in the developing world deserve high-quality treatment and care, and this innovative partnership will ensure that health workers and program managers get the timely, relevant information they need -- even when they serve patients in the most remote areas," said Ambassador Mark Dybul, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.
"Health workers will also be able to use the system to order medicine, send alerts, download treatment guidelines, training materials and access other appropriate information," said Paul Meyer, Chairman of Voxiva, the company that has designed the software. "Managers at the regional and national level can access information in real-time via a web based database."
The new scheme builds on the success of a pilot project in Rwanda and will focus initially on the battle against HIV/AIDS in 10 African countries. South Africa's MTN is the first operator partner in the programme.
"The Phone-for-Health Partnership is at once an acknowledgement of the strength and depth of mobile communications in emerging markets, as well as the push to use technology to help solve the serious health problems prevalent across the globe, added MTN Group President and CEO, Phuthuma Nhleko.
"MTN, through the MTN Foundation is involved in other initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS in many of its operations in Africa and we are proud to be one of the first operators to be associated with this project."
Longer term, the hope is that the scheme will be extended further in Africa and spread to Asia to address other infectious diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis, the partners behind the launch said at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona.