mHealth in Emerging Markets

At the recent mHealth Summit in Washington the focus on using mobiles in Health seemed to be more about the opportunities in emerging (or developing) markets rather than the developed.

Quite surprising when one considers that this event took place in Washington, the city in the US with some of the widest disparities in wealth, a HIV/Aids epidemic on a par with Uganda and which houses many of the politicians who manage the US Healthcare Industry – a broken system that financially bankrupts millions of patients every year and wastes as much as 31% of it’s costs on administration.

The following picture was taken by John Moore of Chilmark Research on his way to the event and I believe it reflects a ground swell of disappointment in the American people with their Healthcare System:


Not only is the US healthcare system needing mHealth but developing it and deploying it is the most efficient way to help advance the global Healthcare market, particularly if the companies doing it can share their data and understandings and offer open access to their solutions.

There is also concerns that some of the wide scale initiatives being done by charities and non profits in emerging markets will no doubt be preventing the normal development of their healthcare systems, channeling limited funds into an area that may not give the ROI that planners thought, and which may lead to even more neglect to other areas which receive less publicity as agencies clamor to be seen to be doing something with the latest shiney new thing. There is also the issue of “what happens when the funds run out” that happens when the financial support for an unsustainable projects is withdrawn.

So here’s a few suggestions for that I have for those developing mHealth for emerging markets:

1) Yes, the emerging market needs mHealth. But the emerging market also needs water, food, shelter, drugs, protection from violence/wars etc. And the resources committed to anything you do there will upset the status quo. Whilst developing a mHealth application for the iPhone may seem to be something that has no benefits for emerging markets (where owners of the expensive device are very few) the success of this smartphone innovation will probably do more to influence sustainable design, roll out and support for services across much wider patient groups.

2) If you’re developing for a market, go and live there. See the pain points first hand. Understand the repercussions of your interventions eg. a medical call centre will enable access to remote care but this has the potential to directly compete with and undermine the work of local health services and their limited resources. Try and work with what is already being done locally.

3) Build for the future, because it will be here quicker than you’ll expect. Don’t ignore the mobile internet because you think “they” won’t be able to learn how to use it, some people thought the same about mobiles in emerging markets (fortunately the likes of Ibrahim Mohammad didn’t listen to them!). As an example I recently read about an aid funded program that is providing health workers with Motorola RaZr’s – a clumsy dated phone that has an UI that I wouldn’t wish on my worse enemy! Compare this to the latest Nokias that have been designed and built for the emerging markets, cost from only €22, have 20 day standby battery lifes and come configured with useful native applications like the Call Cost Counter. In such a transformational market be sure to pick the most appropriate mobile tech available.

I hope this doesn’t come across as discouraging because there is an enormous opportunity in developing mobile services for emerging markets, not least because the “rest of the world” makes up 80% of the worlds population, but also because the main technologies are not uniformly distributed – and the Mobile Phone is the ONLY DEVICE that beeches the digital divide and has MORE OWNERS in emerging markets.

Distribution of Technologies in the emerging and industrialized worlds

This illustration is made using statistics sourced from TomiAhonen Consulting 2009. If you would like to read Tomi Ahonen’s free 2 page thought piece on understanding mobile in the Developing World, please him an email at tomi (at) tomiahonen (dot) com and he will send it to you by return email. I’ll leave you with a quote from his blog post discussing them:

“Across the emerging world there are now more than one phone subscription for every two people! …By every measure, mobile is the giant, the only giant, and the other technologies are the lilliputs. If you intend to communicate with prospective customers in the Developing World today, then you cannot think of mobile as the ‘fourth screen’ and consider possibly including it in your communication mix, as we still can think in the Industrialized World, as a luxury today. No, in the Developing World mobile is the first screen – and obviously, for as many as 1.8 billion people – one quarter of the planet – it is the ONLY screen. These 1.8 billion people do not have a PC, not a TV, not even FM radio, but they have a live, active mobile phone account. Out of all 3 billion people in the Developing World who have some kind of connection, a massive 60% have no other way to connect, than their mobile phone!”

4 Responses to mHealth in Emerging Markets

  1. […] mHealth Alliances in the hope that someone will tell them how to do it or just to ponder why this can’t/won’t happen here first, Avea has taken action and through a partnership with a leading Turkish Healthcare company […]

  2. […] the incredibly limited Healthcare IT spends in developing countries. To ignore the potential of the ONLY device that has more distribution in developing countries than developed countries to hold onto our western faith that eHealth will be able to acheive goals (it seldom does because […]

  3. […] if you want to make a difference forget about eHealth and focus on mHealth as this leverages the only electronic device that has a greater distribution in emerging markets. 20% of GDP in Kenya is already passing through a mobile payment service (mPesa) and soon it is […]

  4. […] The iHeed Institute (producers of the annual GetHealth Summit – check out my review here) has been doing some great work in this area – check out the their 2014 Outcome Report that is well worth checking out. I think these statements highlight how important it is for global health analysts to look to mobile industry analysts like Tomi Ahonen not only to better understand the rapidly changing mobile market but also to begin to appreciate the opportunity to freely share data and insights eg. his annual mobile industry almanac. Mobile isn’t just an ‘obvious candidate’ and nor is it merely ‘becoming ubiquitous’ since 2009 it’s been the only technology that is more distributed in low and middle income cou…. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 152 other followers

%d bloggers like this: