Mobile Communication in Developing CountriesPosted: January 19, 2010
In many developing countries, mass communication doesn’t exist in the way we’ve come to embrace in both a historical and democratic sense; however, personal, peer-to-peer communication via mobile thrives in many of these regions. There are definite reasons to consider this given the landscape in Haiti and its recent disaster. Cell phones are a backbone of the island’s communication. In times of crisis, getting the word out about where attention is needed is often an important step to efficiently addressing relief efforts, and mobile could certainly be a factor.
There are many different ways mobile might play into increasing health care in developing countries, and the topic was the subject of a weekly write-up called the Health Digital Check-Up that I sent to members of Edelman’s health practice. Considering the circumstances, I thought it’d be worth posting here, as well:
Last February, Vodafone’s strategy director in the U.K., Terry Kramer, noted a pretty telling statistic about communication and health in the developing world: “There are 2.2 billion mobile phones…305 million computers but only 11 million hospital beds.”
Given the events in Haiti, it is a perfect time to examine what role mobile could play in similar countries moving forward. Haiti is a nearly perfect communication example: 2005 statistics indicate that there were about 115,000 landlines in the island country, while a 2008 report shows that there are as many as 3.2 million mobile phones. This reality of infrastructure has made restoring damaged cellular facilities among the top priorities.
Kramer shared the above statistic with a group of organizations that included the United Nations and the Rockefeller Foundation’s mHealth Alliance, and their goal is to advance the use of mobile as a means of health and crisis communication in the developing world. This week’s Digital Health Check-Up summarizes five ways mobile could be used to improve health conditions in these countries (as documented by the group in this 2009 report):
Education and Awareness
Given the permeation of mobile in developing countries and minimal presence of other communication infrastructure, the channel isn’t only the main way individuals get information, it may also be the only way. Text programs make sense for delivering public health messages both because of the relative low cost and the fact that it is the manner in which the majority of the population can be reached.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Limits to the availability of hospital beds create a challenge for healthcare professionals who are faced with patients who may not need full-time care, but still require regular attention or scheduled drug regimens. Mobile phones create an avenue that HCPs can use to provide and manage distance care or medicine reminders while their patients are away from the hospital.
Connecting Healthcare Workers
Since many facilities throughout the developing world may not have the luxury of connectivity, mobile can play a large part in helping one clinic talk to another. For the healthcare workers at these units, cell phones build a channel to centers that are often a significant distance apart, and they can make a large difference in providing efficient care. Workers can check bed or treatment availability before sending patients on the journey to a regional center.
Public health officials may cite the value of mobile for the data it can provide during times of health emergencies or crisis. Before mobile networks existed, these groups had to rely on expensive and unreliable communication forms to try and track outbreak via satellites or radio. With mobile, officials can connect quicker across greater distances, helping to determine better dispersion of vaccinations or staff to quell potential epidemics.
Just as with tracking the outbreak of disease, mobile can play a role in assisting relief workers handle crises after they occur. Whether caused by a natural disaster or a health emergency, mobile provides an avenue for citizens to reach out to each other or workers – even through a mobile social network like Twitter – to report conditions or needs.
While tangentially related, please remember that you can still use your own mobile phone to donate to the Red Cross. Simply text HAITI to 90999. So far, over $22m has been raised, and many mobile companies are doing the classy thing by waiving normal delays before releasing donated funds to organizations.