By Ntandoyenkosi Ncube
CAPE TOWN, May 31 (Xinhua)--Maximum utilization and increased investments in mobile industry have huge potential to accelerate Africa to achieve United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), experts and government officials said on Thursday.
This was emphasized at the ongoing Mobile Health Summit in Cape Town where Africa and international health experts, mobile sector executives, senior government officials, and NGO representatives are discussing how policies and Information and Communications Technology (ITC) infrastructure can be utilized and advanced to promote use of mobile technology in health service delivery.
In an interview with Xinhua on the sidelines of the summit, World Vision- Research, Design, Monitoring and Evolution Director Jane Chege said limited access to information is a big challenge to Africa achieving MDG 4, which is to reduce child mortality, and MDG 5, which is to improve maternal health and MDG 6, which combats HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other chronic diseases.
"One of the biggest challenges when it comes to the achievement of MDGs is the access to information particularly to the poor and the marginalized. Their limited access to health information, health services, access and utilization of such information is affecting effort to achieving health related MDGs," Chege said.
World Vision senior official said mobile operators are increasing and improving access and quality of healthcare in Sub Sahara Africa.
Chege said recognition of Mobile health (mHealth) is fundamental to Africa health sector. According to the 2011 report by GSMA Africa Mobile Observatory, Africa is now the world's second largest mobile market by connections after Asia.
Chege said that Africa must take advantage of this development to increase information and access to health care in order to meet health related MDGs .
Mobile Health is a term used for the practice of medicine and public health, supported by mobile devices. The term is most commonly used in reference to using mobile communication devices, such as mobile phone, tablet computers for health services and information. The mHealth applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients.
A report, titled "Poverty and Access to Health Care in Developing Countries" by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, indicates that people in developing countries tend to have less access to health services than those in developed countries and within countries, the poor have less access to health services. It says lack of information can creates huge barrier to accessing services health services.
Chege said this situation in Africa can be dealt with by investing in mobile health infrastructure. "Many of our people in sub-Sahara Africa don't have access to health care because of lack of information on what needs to be done so the role of the mobile technology is increasing access to information," Chege said. "Our biggest problem is how sub Saharan Africa is reaching out to the communities."
She said more investment in mHealth is critical to Africa. While indicating that more donor support is needed, she urged the private sector and governments in Africa to collaborate in this area.
"Who should invest in mhealth is the biggest puzzle we are here to articulate," Chege said. "I think private and public sector cooperation is very crucial but at the same time I also see the need for donor community to provide support in these projects," she added.
Speaking at the summit, South Africa deputy minister of Health Gwen Ramokgopa called on donor community, private sector, research and academic institutions and government to work together to ensure that mobile technology become a catalyst to health services delivery.
"If we work together we can make mobile technology be a catalytic intervention in improving our ability as government to prevent illness in the first place and to expand health services in human resource constraint environment," Ramokgopa told the delegates.