African Technology Tackles Health Needs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Africa is becoming a world leader in mobile phone applications for health and healthcare. Despite dramatic improvements to the quality of hospitals and the number of qualified doctors, the continent’s healthcare services are still a patchwork, with rural and slum dwellers poorly served and the stresses of treating patients with contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria pushing resources to the limit.

But innovative inventions are coming along to provide new tools to doctors and medical personnel and to better engage patients with remote services.

South Africa’s Afridoctor (http://twitter.com/afridoctor) mobile phone application claims to be Africa’s first personal mobile health clinic. It lets patients use its “SnapDiagnosis” system to submit photos of their ailments and in turn receive advice from a panel of medical professionals, or use the mapping feature to find doctors, clinics and health industry-related services nearby.

Afridoctor was conceived to fill the gap across Africa for basic health information that is reliable and trustworthy.

There is an emergency feature to notify next of kin during a medical emergency and provide a location. Other features include symptom checkers, first-aid information, health calculators and quizzes.

Expert feedback comes within 48 hours after submission of a request.

A winner of a Nokia competition, Afridoctor was developed by the labs of media company 24.com (http://20fourlabs.com) of Cape Town, South Africa.

“It is more for external use – like dermatology – for things like a bee sting or a snake bite and you don’t know what to do or how to diagnose it,” Werner Erasmus, who created the app, told the BBC.

The “find a doctor” system uses Google Maps to geo-locate local health services including doctors, hospitals and emergency clinics.

The distress feature enables users to contact a family member or friend at the touch of a button. It does this by storing the mobile phone number of a selected relative. When the distress button is pressed, they are notified of the phone’s location.

Developed in just three weeks, to enter mobile phone company Nokia’s contest (http://www.callingallinnovators.com) for mobile phone applications, Afridoctor went on to win the competition in 2009. It is now being expanded to be usable on most, if not all, smart phones.

As in the rest of Africa, mobile phone use in South Africa has dramatically increased in the past 10 years. It is estimated that over 70 percent of South Africans now have access to one.

Another application getting attention is Ghana’s mPedigree (http://mpedigree.net). Designed to combat the damage done by counterfeit drugs in Africa and across the South, mPedigree works by letting a person send a text message by mobile phone to the mPedigree service to check a drug’s authenticity. A message comes back confirming whether the medicine is authentic or not.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 25 percent of medicines sold around the developing world are counterfeit. Some contain no active ingredients, and others are even harmful.

MPedigree is a Ghanian start-up headed by social entrepreneur Bright Simons (http://www.worldpress.org/freelancers/index.cfm/hurl/page=freelancerDetails/id=7). Like Afridoctor, it is ambitious and hopes to expand around the world. So far, the mPedigree Network has expanded its work to East Africa.

Resources

  • mPedigree uses cell phones to build networks to tackle and identify counterfeit drugs. Website: http://mpedigree.net/
  • AirStrip Technologies: Securely sends vital patient information electronically to a doctor’s mobile phone device. Website: http://www.airstriptech.com/
  • OsiriX: An Open Source programme for computers and devices allowing doctors to stream medical imaging data live. Website: http://www.osirix-viewer.com/

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