By: Madeline Taskier, Partnership Coordinator and Bhuvana Bhagat, Senior Program Officer at Women Deliver
Over 2,700 tech gurus, government officials, non-profit organizations, researchers and private sector companies attended the mHealth Summit last week in DC at the Washington Convention Center. Hosted by the mHealth Alliance of the UN Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Foundation for the NIH, the summit brought together participants across sectors to discuss progress made in mobile health so far and what the future holds.
Maternal health flowed in and out of the larger conversation at the conference as it is a health focus area of the mHealth Alliance, and several sessions positioned maternal health as a centerpiece in the discussion of how ICT and mobile phones can be used to improve global health outcomes.
Presenters in the “Achieving Priority Needs with ICT and Mobile Tech” session highlighted the need to focus on the consumer—women and female community health workers (CHWs). mHealth developers addressed the need to create applications that women will use, love, and spread to their friends. Whether this involves voice health reminders from a messaging service or an iconic text message will completely depend on the population of interest. Developers also discussed the need for women to have a personal relationship with the health system and the need to cater the technology around that. Clint McClellan, senior director of Qualcomm Health and Life Sciences, spoke of how mHealth applications “can be a window into the immediate post-partum space. Mobile phones can act synergistically to help identify a high-risk pregnancy in the early months.” By reading a woman’s vital signs—heart beat, glucose levels, blood pressure—with a mobile phone, CHWs will be able to identify a high-risk pregnancy early on and apply the appropriate care.
These mobile technologies are useful tools, but the mHealth community hasn't yet achieved a model system for monitoring women’s pregnancies. In “Supporting the Frontline Care Giver with a Model System,” speakers addressed several problems: too many pilots, too many varied environments, and not enough research to establish an ideal mobile health system for maternal health. The biggest challenge for researchers and tech developers is how to think in the female CHW’s shoes and understand how the tech is interpreted and used.
Maternal health was discussed in terms of service delivery to improve health outcomes, but the Summit did not address gender inequity in mobile phone ownership and use. In developing countries men dominate the pool of mobile phone subscriptions, inhibiting women’s communication power within the family. Often families can only afford one mobile phone and the man is the one who uses it. How will mhealth systems reach women if they don’t own mobile phones? Sessions at the mHealth Summit failed to highlight this critical issue of gender gaps.
Text4Baby, an initiative started by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Voxiva, Johnson & Johnson, and the Grey Health Care Group, was the highlighted mHealth public-private partnership at the conference. To date, it is the largest free mobile health text messaging service in the U.S. providing mothers with valuable health information about their pregnancy and newborns. In 2010, Text4Baby reached over 100,000 mothers in the U.S. and is growing. Todd Park, HHS Chief Technology Officer, announced that Text4Baby expanding to reach 1 million moms by 2012 in the U.S. and going global with generous extended support from Johnson & Johnson.
Finally, the mHealth Alliance made some financial headway as major organizations announced support to help advance mobile healthcare. Hewlett Packard, Qualcomm, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Norwegian Agency NORAD are joining mHealth to better utilize mobile tech in the global distribution of healthcare. Three donations of $1 million each are being made to the mHealth Alliance to promote the delivery of quality care through wireless technology. A portion of these funds will go to the Maternal mHealth Initiative, a program designed to reduce maternal and infant mortality in developing countries.
- Check out mHealth Alliance HUB (health unbound) website to join the discussion on maternal mHealth Initiative.