How Texting is Solving Africa’s Health Infrastructure Issues

With a great disease burden and an incredibly low spending on health, Africa faces significant hurdles in combating dangerous diseases. There is a clear need for a professional SMS campaign and response, especially in remote areas. Healthcare facilities are also quite difficult to build with limited access to power and water.

Unfortunately, hostile conditions and limited support cause problems for healthcare personnel. This extends to receiving communication from the more well-equipped facilities. Surprisingly enough, there is a lot of potential for wireless networking to help out the healthcare sector. A large sensor network has been used to extend and better operate medical care. The network’s ability to distribute information faster than most methods can help with supporting healthcare in rural areas.

The Introduction of mHealth

This approach, which is known as mHealth or mobile health, comes in a number of forms. For example, it can be used to send out text messages to remind patients to follow up on their medical care. In countries such as Rwanda, UNICEF has helped initiate the RapidSMS program which supports community health workers by tracking and helping maintain the care of mothers and children.

The SMS reminders are more helpful than one can imagine. A study has shown that when used in hard-to-reach areas, they aid in lowering stress levels and increase compliance with medical prescriptions. They also keep track of appointments, which means that there is a quicker response when compared to instances where SMS messages were not even used.

Not only that, but mHealth also makes sure that financial matters can be resolved without having to go to a bank. With an affordable mobile money technology, they can reach out to partner groups, such as Global Health Finance, to help out with financial burdens such as insurance premiums and even the maintenance of facilities themselves.

The services don’t just stop there. Some models can be used by doctors to check on the vital signs of many patients without having to be present. They can also help patients learn how to treat ailments from the comfort of their own homes and give prescriptions without having to go to the doctor first.

This is best seen in Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute, where workers are provided with portable ultrasound devices that help assess the status of pregnant women in communities that are hard to reach or women who may not make it to the hospital on time. There are even ways to extract information to effectively conduct blood analysis using only an application from a smartphone.

Problem Areas

This program has its benefits. Sadly, the support it gets is not stable enough. Most help comes from public and private donors and partnerships, rather than strong government backing. Furthermore, the program itself is irregular in nature.

It has not been fully integrated into countrywide healthcare systems. As noted by mHealth entrepreneur Okey Okuzu, mobile health may be a grand opportunity for better improvements in quick responses, but people also struggle with the use of the technology or make decisions based on the data collected from these devices.

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