Using Technology On the Ground to Promote Global Health

June 9, 2011 By Molly Lester

Leaders in both the public and private sector are turning more and more to mobile phone technology to promote global health initiatives in the developing world.  Following the recent launch of the MAMA Initiative by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the BMWi Global Innovation Series highlighted two startups that use innovative mobile technology “that will change the global health landscape in dramatic ways.”

Medic Mobile, a program that uses cell phones and text messages to connect doctors and patients, serves 4.5 million people in 11 countries.  Founded by Josh Nesbit while a student at Stanford University, Medic Mobile allows doctors in rural areas to provide health information and follow-up with patients while saving time and money for clinic staff.  Another example comes from UCLA Professor Aydogan Ozcan, who has developed mobile diagnostics by creating a lightweight microscope that attaches to a cellphone, turning the phone into a medical lab.  This technology enables clinics to quickly send blood samples for testing and allows health care workers to diagnose patients across a large area, sometimes as much as 1800 miles, without spending time and money on travel.

Last month public-private partners announced the MAMA Initiative, a program to use mobile technology to provide health information to pregnant women and new mothers in the developing world.  At its launch, Secretary Clinton acknowledged the value of new technology for improving development efforts, saying, “We have the ability, therefore, to help more women live healthy lives and more babies to get off to a healthy start; and that’s why we have to keep asking ourselves what works and let’s take it to scale, and if it doesn’t work, let’s quit doing it and find something more innovative and effective.”

Through these programs and others like it, government agencies can utilize the technological innovations of the private sector to improve global health around the world and cooperate with private companies and nongovernmental organizations to achieve vital development goals.  Medic Mobile and Professor Ozcan’s mobile diagnostics show how advancing global health is not the sole province of the State Department or the UN, but can also be successful on the ground through targeted private-sector programs.