At the beginning of the 21st century it was inconceivable that the majority of people living in Africa would have access to mobile phones, yet in less than two decades the continent underwent a mobile phone revolution and became the world’s fastest growing mobile phone market due to decreasing costs and increasing network coverage. With the upsurge of mobile devices healthcare organisations and governments alike recognised the potential that mobile health (mHealth) technology could have on improving the delivery and efficiency of healthcare in the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the most poor-performing health systems in the world. These are attributed to wide-spread political and social unrest and decades of underinvestment in the health system, which is further crippled by poverty, the high prevalence of communicable diseases like HIV and TB, lack of infrastructure and healthcare facilities in remote areas, and the shortage of healthcare staff across the board.

To date there have been thousands of mHealth projects piloted in the region that have aimed to strengthen the health system by addressing key issues pertaining to patient follow-up and medication adherence; staff training and support; staff evaluation, monitoring and evaluation; medicines supply chain and stock management; disease surveillance and intervention monitoring; improved accuracy and efficiency of health data collection; and patient education and awareness.

However the success rate and sustainability of the majority of these mHealth pilots have been poor due to donor funding running out and lack of collaboration between stakeholders. According to Director of eHealth focused non-profit organisation, HealthEnabled, and speaker at eHealthALIVE2016, Dr Peter Benjamin, for an mHealth project to be successful and have an impact, it’s critical for it to integrate into the healthcare system and be adapted to the local context and language. Another recipe for success is if the government has an existing mHealth or overall eHealth strategy, and has the capability and the willingness to help set-up, finance and integrate the mHealth projects into the healthcare system.

In August 2014 the South African Department of Health launched MomConnect, a collaborative mHealth initiative that provides a free SMS-based messaging service to pregnant women and new mothers about available health services for their infants. More than just a service that pushes out informative SMS’, MomConnect has initiated a national patient register from when pregnant women are registered for the service at their local clinic. Another success is that it has enabled women to use their mobile phone as a tool to express their views about their healthcare experience and how MomConnect has affected their lives.

“For the first time patients can use their mobile phone to report on the health system, whether it be a comment, complaint, criticism or compliment. MomConnect has gone a long way in changing the public view of how the health system works,” said Dr Benjamin, who is part of the MomConnect task team.

Almost two years later the project has gained global recognition for being the largest and most successful nationally rolled out mHealth project to date. According to Dr Benjamin, MomConnect was the first mHealth project in South Africa that followed the country’s national eHealth strategy, and has opened the gateway for future mHealth projects to be integrated into the healthcare system.

Dr Benjamin will be one of the speakers at the eHealthALIVE2016 conference addressing the importance of mHealth in improving healthcare access across the African continent. eHealthALIVE2016 is an inaugural joint initiative between the African Centre for eHealth Excellence (Acfee) and eHealthNews, and will be taking place 6-7 September 2016 at the Sandton Convection Centre in Johannesburg.

Tickets are selling fast, so get your tickets today to take advantage of the early bird special. For additional information about eHealthALIVE2016, contact info@ehealthalive.co.za or visit www.eHealthALIVE.co.za to stay up to date with programme developments.

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