Experts gathered for Africa‘s first mobile health summit on Tuesday hailed the use of phone technology as a new frontier in improving patient care in poor countries. But a government minister in South Africa, which is hosting the summit, called for caution over issues of regulation, confidentiality and cost to patients.
The debate came as the World Health Organisation released a major report (pdf) charting the worldwide use of mobile phone technology in healthcare. It finds that 83% out of 122 countries surveyed use mobile phone technology for services that include free emergency calls, text messaging with pill reminders and health information and transmission of tests and lab results.
Mobile health is already firmly established enough for the WHO to have set up a special unit five years ago, the Global Observatory for eHealth, staffed by four people in Geneva.
Its manager, Misha Kay, estimated that up to 40 African countries are using mobile health services. He said large countries with several phone operators – such as Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya – are leading the way. “The momentum is huge. What is happening is important. Millions of people in Africa still do not have access to any healthcare. With mobile technology they can at least have some,” he said.