Critics of mine have accused me of being so blinked that I see mHealth in everything. So how about a piece of chewing gum?
Well check out this Discovery article written by Eric Bland which reports on “Maliva” – a chewing gum being developed by Andrew Fung and colleagues at UCLA that has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Maliva is based on evidence released in a study from last year that shows how 3 of the proteins that the malaria antigen blood tests are looking for can also be found in saliva.
To add malaria detecting properties to the gum requires the incorporation of magnetic nanoparticles tipped with antibodies. These then latch onto the molecules produced by the malaria parasites that pour into the mouth when the patient chews. After a few minutes chewing, the gum would be removed and placed on a paper strip when the nanoparticles bound to malaria proteins would show up as a thin line. No line, no malaria.
The opportunity isn’t just restricted to Malaria, as lots of other diseases produce specific proteins that are secreted into saliva.
So what role could a mobile phone have to play?
Well once accurate tests can be packaged and sold as simply as a pack of candy this testing device will inevitably face several issues. The top 2 being counterfeiting and patient access to information. Here’s an explanation of how mobile phones can help manage these:
It’s going to be easy for counterfeiters to clone these premium products with candy based alternatives that will give infected patients a “no line” result and false reassurance. This isn’t going to be helped by the fact that the retail chains won’t be as tightly regulated as the pharmaceutical stores which themselves are plagued by piracy issues.
Through lessons with mobile Money the mobile industry has had to work out how to limit this very effectively. In India for example (through a JV between Airtel and SBI) mobile phone top up retailer points can now offer banking services.
In addition to this through use of mHealth apps the genuineness of these packs of gum will be able to be confirmed via QR Codes and mobile web apps that can verify specific retailer stamps, mobile phone camera readable codes concealed within the packaging etc.
Patient access to information
The greater ease of use will lead to a surge in patient access that will not be supported by a growth in clinical facilitates so patients will increasingly be learning critically important information about their health in regular environments such as workplaces, homes, in-the-field, etc. Only the mobile phone can be relied on to access/deliver this important actionable information in a local format wrt. language and places of referral.
So how will patients find out about it?
Mobile marketing would be the only contender for this: Mobile web keyword advertising (eg. using typical symptom key words) would prove a very cost effective way of promoting the gum and educating patients about it’s proper use and availability in a malaria affected region.
What will it look like?
To help you get the idea here’s what I think Maliva (or “Gates Gum” ;)) packaging will look like when it reaches patients: