On June 6–9 leaders from government, private sector, and public health will get together in Cape Town, South Africa for the first ever Mobile Health Summit. Mobile Health (referred to as mHealth) is an emerging field that seeks to use mobile technology to improve access to and quality of health care particularly in regions where the disease burdens are highest. Though many programs are still in the pilot and feasibility stage, mobile health has been shown to have the ability to increase access to information, experts, and technology.
Programs include those that let patients access medical information, advice, and counseling, and let providers access patient records and expert colleagues remotely. One program that will be discussed at the summit is the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), a joint venture between USAID and the U.S. manufacturer Johnson & Johnson that will be launched in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa. Under this program, pregnant or postpartum women can register to receive SMS or voice messages specific to their stage of pregnancy or their baby’s stage of development. Such messages might suggest local foods that provide good prenatal nutrition or remind them of when it is time to seek vaccinations for their child.
Mobile Health also involves the development of technology and equipment to improve medical care. One of example of this that can improve the reach of maternal health care is an ultrasound machine with mobile technology built in which enables it to send images back to a central location where they can be viewed by trained health care professionals.
The Summit is organized by the mHealth Alliance, which was founded by the United Nations Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Vodafone Foundation to develop and deploy sustainable mobile health models, and the GSMA which represents mobile operators, handset makers, software companies, equipment providers, Internet companies, and media and entertainment organizations. With more than five billion mobile subscribers worldwide, the organizers believe that mobile technology has the ability to enable access to health information and services in places that otherwise would not have it and will use the summit to further the understanding and adoption of mobile technology.
A number of research studies will also be released at the summit including the results of a survey of mobile technology and health in 112 countries. This comprehensive picture can serve as a baseline to measure progress as technology improves and the number of mHealth programs grows.
Live updates will be available online throughout the summit.