Emerging Trends | SDG3
May 30, 2013

Scaling up evidence-based mhealth to fight NCDs

By Brahima Sanou

Mobile Phones are now considered essential tools for health workers.

It was with great pleasure that I participated in a recent event at the 66th World Health Assembly on mHealth for Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), an important topic for all of us. ICTs have become key enablers in every facet of human activity – from healthcare and education to energy, transportation, government, entertainment, innovation and enterprise.

This new initiative on mhealth for NCDs will focus on the use of mobile technology to tackle cancer, lung disease, heart disease and diabetes – in the areas of prevention, treatment and policy enforcement and targeting specific disease risk factors such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet.

This partnership between ITU and WHO aims to contribute to global and national efforts to save lives, minimize illness and disability, and reduce the social and economic burden due to NCDs that are the biggest killer of our time, causing 63% of all deaths annually.

No woman should pass away when giving birth because the right information did not get to the hospital on time when we have mobile technology available.

No epidemiologic situation should get out of control because the information was not received early enough when we have more than 90% mobile coverage.

No child, no matter where it was born and regardless of the socio-economic situation of its parents, should be denied proper education when mobile coverage is at our finger tips.

Innovative ICT solutions provide new opportunities for us. By the end of 2013 there will be 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions for a world population of 7.1 billion. It is anticipated that we will have more mobile devices than human beings on this planet in 2014. This initiative is fully compatible with the broader “M-Powering Development” initiative which I launched recently and which aims to unleash the transformative potential of mobile communications to improve the of lives of every citizen, everywhere.

Through mobile phones, we can better inform young people about sporting and fitness opportunities or help people quit smoking which is the focus of the mhealth program in Costa Rica which is the first country to sign up to our initiative and has demonstrated its commitment with an active mhealth program already underway and with more developments in the pipeline.

We can also help health workers to conduct household surveys to measure NCD prevention levels and to collect and collate extensive data that will ultimately strengthen national health systems, a point that was emphasized during our panel discussion by the Minister of Health from Mali, Mr. Soumana Makadji.

We can foresee a near future where there will be a big move towards broad mhealth adoption. It will be “normal” for people to utilize mhealth solutions, to take control of their health and wellness, managing their health conditions whether this is blood pressure or glucose levels and providing actionable information that the patient can use and the caregiver can act upon.

ITU and WHO are developing an approach for countries that works at scale – the approach is based on evidence and has taken into account all the lessons we have learnt from the mhealth world over the last few years.

The initiative will take proven successful projects to scale by addressing the impeding factors through strong government ownership and leadership, development of standardized mhealth platforms and solutions, devising a generic monitoring and evaluation framework and securing a strong public-private-partnership.

Private sector contributions will be particularly important. Through their business operations and practices, expertise and products, they can reduce the global, national and individual burdens of the NCD epidemic. In essence, this initiative must succeed at the individual level – we will ensure it remains fully people focused and use mobile technology to achieve the goal of having a positive impact on the daily lives of people.

Brahima Sanou

Mr. Brahima Sanou was elected Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau by the Plenipotentiary Conference, 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico. He took office on 1 January 2011.
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