Significant growth is expected in the global mHealth market over the next five years due to lifestyle diseases. Read on to find out which countries might benefit most from mHealth innovation and why they aren’t likely to see it.
A recent report by Allied Medical Research indicates that the global mHealth market is expected to grow by a compounded annual rate of over 33 percent for the next five years. North America and Europe accounted for 64 percent of mHealth market revenue in 2014, and are expected to remain strongholds, according to the report.
Valued at US $10.5 billion in 2014, much of the growth is expected to come from what the company refers to as lifestyle diseases, including diabetes, stroke, asthma, and cardiac disease.
- non-communicable diseases account for two-thirds of deaths.
- over one-third of adult men use tobacco.
- 15 percent of women are obese (see below for the countries with the highest levels of obesity).
- approximately 25 percent of men have high blood pressure.
Many investors and analysts see huge opportunity for the development of mHealth tools that help bring about and support behavior change. And, looking at the WHO’s health statistics, behavior change is certainly needed.
Health innovation: We can’t just do it for the money
However, when we look at health on a global scale, the people most likely to benefit from mHealth (as it exists today) are those in wealthy countries. In middle and lower income countries, where poverty, communicable diseases, and obesity are everyday struggles, an app that counts your steps or calories isn’t going to help much.
Women bear the burden of obesity throughout the world, according to the WHO. They have consistently higher rates of obesity than the men in their countries. And the proportion of populations that are not just overweight, but obese, in emerging economies is remarkable.
% of women who are obese (as of 2014)
In North America and Europe, mHealth apps to help people monitor what they put in their bodies are a dime a dozen, and there is some evidence of their efficacy. But in other global regions, people aren’t as worried about how many calories might be in their Big Macs. They don’t even have clean water. Although some 2.6 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, there are still areas where water quality and sanitation are significant concerns. There are innovators in this space, but they don’t do it for the money.
% of population using improved drinking water sources (as of 2012)
More questions than answers
Do we really understand enough of the factors that lead to obesity in countries like Palau, where 52.2 percent of adult women are obese? Is it fair to call obesity a lifestyle disease in this day and age? Who will develop mHealth tools that actually can make a difference in their daily lives?
Perhaps, in light of the report from Allied Medical Research, a better question is: who will pay for the development of these tools? While it might seem like there’s little money to be made here, there is significant opportunity for social change and market growth. Increasing awareness of the risks and prevalence of chronic diseases and the support of philanthropic organizations with track records of successful health innovation may help to bring some much needed mHealth development. But can mHealth truly be scaled globally without economic incentives from government organizations?
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.