The United Nations Foundation has been pioneering a mobile health (mHealth) initiative in 11 African nations, using mobile devices and wireless access for such things as aiding in the immunization of children against measles. The program has been so successful that the foundation and its partner, Vodafone Group Foundation, now plans to broaden the initiative to more than 20 sub-Saharan countries by the end of the year.
Mitul Shah, senior director of technology partnerships at the U.N. Foundation, said the initiative has shown to be effective in delivering health care in remote and resource-poor environments through the quick and efficient collection of health data. Wireless devices can help health-care workers in a sort of early warning system for epidemics, while also tracking other health data, he said.
Other agencies participating in the Mobile Health for Development program include the World Health Organization, DataDyne.org and ministries of health in the countries. DataDyne.org developed an open-source program, EpiSurveyor, for gathering health data on mobile devices.
Shah said the mHealth program started in 2006 with pilots in Kenya and Zambia. In Kenya, health officials used the EpiSurveyor technology to investigate and track a polio outbreak. In Zambia, EpiSurveyor was used to track the coverage rate of a measles vaccination program, ensuring that all children were vaccinated.
The countries expected to be included n the mHealth initiative by the end of 2008 include Benin, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, Botswana, Burundi, Chad, Eritrea, Gabon, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Togo.