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Mobile Technologies in Combatting Chronic and Non-Communicable Diseases

Engage Africa Foundation works with future public health leaders to mentor them in public health as it relates to chronic disease prevention and control. Through their practicums, their grow in their understanding of and ability to contribute to emerging public health challenges. One of those students is Afnan Ullah and she will be reflecting on her growth through monthly blogposts.

Today, I would like to share some insights I have obtained as I have begun digging through my research on the prevention and treatment of chronic and non-communicable diseases (NCD) in Africa. One of the interesting findings I came across was the utility of mobile health (aka mHealth) for non-communicable diseases. In one of my findings, I discovered that mobile technology was in fact identified as a key strategy in combatting NCDs in low and middle income countries by the United Nations High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (Bloomfield et al., 2014). The potential impact of mHealth is vast as the number of cellphone users all over the world has increased; there is increasing network coverage all over the world; and falling market prices of cell phones makes it more accessible (Brinkel et al., 2014). The widespread of wireless telecommunication networks across nations made it easy to be able to seamlessly send text messages, which has become a common form of technology. Bloomfield et al. (2014) discussed how mHealth aided in facilitating follow-up for patients, adhering to clinical attendance, improving healthcare service delivery, and healthcare in general. A report by Deloitte discussed how asynchronous technologies (exchange of pre-recorded data) is beneficial in providing drug reminders through SMS and other apps; synchronous technologies (real-time interactions) are helpful in tracking body vitals and providing mobile consultations; and a combination of the two forms aids in chronic disease management (Crul, 2014). In one example, Senegal launched an “mDiabetes” program that was intended to help citizens manage diabetes during the month of Ramadan (World Health Organization, 2014). This program sends out text messages such as:

"Drink one litre of water every morning before you begin fasting."

"Take care not to overeat and watch out for foods high in sugar such as dates."

"Ask your doctor to adapt the dose and timing of your diabetes medication before you fast."

 All things considered, it’s quite amazing what an impact technology can have. Although mDiabetes is just one example, there are plenty more out there and brings about hope in combatting chronic diseases and NCDs. Nevertheless, it is important to consider some of the challenges associated with mHealth. For one, there will need to be stakeholders who will be willing to pay for these projects. As mentioned by Crul (2014), it is important for the governments to have buy-in. Such regulations and ethical considerations are what will influence the adoption of mobile health technologies (Crul, 2014). This report by Deloitte additionally mentions how in order for mobile health technologies to fully thrive and succeed, there needs to be cooperation all around. The other point to keep in mind is that in order for mobile health technologies to thrive, there needs to be adequate technology infrastructure (Brinkel et al., 2014). Although networks have become widespread across Africa, there are many sub-Saharan African countries where the technological infrastructure is weak or inadequate (Brinkel et al., 2014). These are some of the points to keep in mind in order to anticipate the successes of mHealth.

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References:

Bloomfield, G.S., Vedanthan, R., Vasudevan, L., Kithei, A., Were, M. & Velazquez, E.J. (2014). Mobile health for non-communicable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review of the literature and strategic framework for research. Globalization and Health, 10(49)

Brinkel, J., Kramer, A., Krumkamp, R., May, J. & Fobil, J. (2014). Mobile Phone-Based mHealth Approaches for Public Health Surveillance in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Public Health, 11(11), 11559-11582.

Crul, S. (2014). The mHealth Opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa: The path towards practical application. Deloitte. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/nl/Documents/technology-media-telecommunications/deloitte-nl-mhealth.pdf

World Health Organization. (2014). Mobile phones help people with diabetes to manage fasting and feasting during Ramadan. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/2014/mobile-phones-diabetes-ramadan/en/

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