All aboard the M(obile) Health Express!

When I first heard of Kilifi Kids’ goal to raise $1 million for its mHealth pilot program, I wondered, “How can mobile phones be of any help to starving African children and in one of the world’s poorest countries?” Little did I know that, in the past decade, developing countries have surpassed the developed world in the number of mobile phones per person. Which is impressive when you consider that just 10 years ago, the entire continent of Africa had fewer telephone lines than did the tiny island of Manhattan.

According to the United Nations, in 2010, nearly 70 percent of people living in developing countries now have access to a mobile phone. It’s as if the developing world completely leap-frogged the developed world in this regard, which makes sense when you think about it: building cell phone towers is much cheaper than laying thousands of miles of land lines and fiber optic cables, and cell phones are certainly much cheaper than computers. The UN is so excited about the potential of mobile technology to improve the delivery of cost-effective humanitarian relief to some of the poorest communities, that its foundation has named mHealth as one of its top priorities, and has partnered with Vodafone to support the development of such programs across the developing world.

Kilifi Kids is wise to jump on the mHealth train to support its goal of improving the health and nutrition of 500,000 children across Kenya.  Here are some of the ways that mobile telephones can help improve the access and quality of health care in Kenya:

  • By arming community health workers (CHW) with mobile phones, they can communicate health information more quickly from the remote villages to the doctors and nurses at the health clinics in the city center.
  • With a focus on malnourished children, CHWs can monitor and record patients’ vital signs, symptoms, and other health indicators to more quickly diagnose medical conditions and mobilize the necessary actions for treatment.
  • CHWs can request deliveries of needed medicines and food with a simple text message.
  • Mobile phones allow CHWs to collect health data to inform the greater public health objectives
  • Specialized mobile phone applications can educate residents about health information, both preventative and curative.

This is an exciting time to be involved in the burgeoning mHealth movement, and Kilifi Kids is right on the front lines, saving lives one cell phone at a time!

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