GSMA's mHealth initiative is a vast effort that seeks to leverage on mHealth's capabilities to improve healthcare in Africa with some successes and a few setbacks.
Last month, Millicom announced it is the latest telecoms company to join the Global System for Mobile Communications Authority’s (GSMA) cross-ecosystem Pan-African mHealth initiative (PAMI)—which is designed to connect people with the mobile industry and health services in eleven countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The aim of the initiative is to work with mobile operators across Africa to provide vulnerable women and children with free access to a suite of basic health and nutrition services, delivered through a single consolidated access point on their mobile phones.
Tom Phillips, Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA, said:
“The GSMA is [working with telecoms companies] to work together to deliver solutions that positively impact on the lives of both consumers and health workers and that deliver public health needs.”
The initial focus of the mhealth initiative includes nutrition with initial launch partners including Gemalto, Hello Doctor, Lifesaver, Mobenzi, Mobilium, MTN, Omega Diagnostics and Samsung. The initiative according to GSMA, could have a far-reaching impact. GSMA Intelligence revealed there is a total annual, addressable market of 15.5 million pregnant women and mothers with children less than five years of age.
Working with tech company Samsung, the initiative is making it possible for Africans—including health workers—to access discounted Samsung handsets, and it is providing access to the Samsung ecosystem (e.g. music, video and other value-added services) to be used as an incentive to drive health usage.
It is also promoting the adoption of a pre-embedded Smart Health application that provides a range of professional applications, information and services on 80 million Samsung handsets.
With one of the continent’s major telecoms companies, MTN, the initiative is leveraging existing and new MTN SIMs to allow free access to health content, health registration and data collection via the Smart Health application. It is also providing simplified access to MTN mobile money, advertising and billing capabilities, and making innovative diagnostics like the Omega Diagnostics Visitect HIV CD4 point of care solution more affordable and accessible via mobile integration.
GSMA’s cross-ecosystem mHealth initiative is the biggest initiative in Africa (so far) that is pulling institutions, organizations and other stakeholders in the mHealth space together to tackle the healthcare challenges in Africa by maximizing the continent’s rapidly growing mobile penetration rate.
Partners are making commitments to simplify the relationships between mobile and health stakeholders, while maximising the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology and its capabilities for health providers and, ultimately, for patients.
As GSMA noted, the initiative will positively impact health content, patient registration, data collection and critical diagnostics. It will also improve access to healthcare—especially for vulnerable African women and children—while providing the delivery mechanism for mHealth services that are commercially sustainable and scalable.
Andrew Shepherd, Founder and Managing Director, Omega Diagnostics Ltd, said:
“Current lab based static diagnostics tools are unable to meet growing patients’ needs as countries step up their HIV treatment programs in conjunction with the decentralisation of CD4 testing. Multi-layer partnerships for mHealth smartphone applications are poised to become an essential foundation in the bridge to augment the continuum of care to the neediest patients, whilst also providing management information and real time surveillance data.”
In all, this elaborate partnership represents an attestation to the general opinion that healthcare in Africa, especially in the rural areas, could immensely benefit from mHealth as the healthcare industry is moving towards a delivery model that is more patient-centered, value-based and accessible in even remote environments.
Thabiet Allie, Head of Content and Services at Samsung Electronics Africa expressed Samsung’s commitment to the project, stressing how it feeds well into the company’s mission:
“Samsung is perfectly positioned to add value to this digital evolution in healthcare, as our devices are both at the cutting edge of innovation and available widely across the continent. These capabilities provide the much needed healthcare support in Africa, ensuring that we are aligned with the Millennium Development Goals as set by the United Nations.”
But tech analyst, Dapo Olusegun told nuviun that the mHealth initiative should be focused more on helping Africa to solve its healthcare challenges, and not just be an avenue for companies to gain CSR credits, or introducing products that Africans don’t need.
“Any solution or intervention that will not help to reduce the incidence of malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, malnutrition, disease outbreak or any of the other healthcare woes that African countries face should not be allowed on the initiative. Furthermore, solutions that require expensive devices will also not be effective in Africa either. The impressive and highly laudable goals of the initiative will be achieved if the focus remains on helping Africa to improve its healthcare system using tools everyone can use,” he said.