mHealth Information For All By 2015: Working Towards a Sustainable Future in Low-Income Countries

CIRI Blog

Published: January 31, 2014 by Dr. Chris Hagar

This week I presented a poster at the BOBCATSSS 2014 conference, an annual LIS symposium held under the auspices of EUCLID (European Association for Library & Information Education and Research). BOBCATSSS is an acronym for the universities that initiated the symposium in 1993: Budapest, Oslo, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Tampere, Stuggart, Szombathely and Sheffield. The theme of this year’s symposium was “Library® evolution: Promoting sustainable information practices.”

My poster presentation reported on the Mobile Health Information For All by 2015 project led by the Health Information For All (HIFA) 2012-2015 Challenge Working Group of which I am a member. The goal of the Mobile Health Information For All project is that:

“By 2015, at least one telecoms provider, in at least one country, will endorse the vision of Health Information For All, and will provide free access to essential healthcare knowledge in the local language, preloaded on all new mobile phones they may sell and freely downloadable to all those who already have mobile phones.”

The problem identified concerns the need for everyone to have healthcare knowledge and timely access to healthcare information to protect their own health and the health of others. Basic healthcare knowledge can and must be made available, when and where it is needed, for all citizens. This is especially important in low-income countries, where health workers may not be available. Thousands of lives could be saved every day if all mobile phones had basic healthcare knowledge, in particular first aid information, and maternal and child health information.

In low-income countries, and especially among those who are poor and marginalized, the fate of people who become ill or injured is highly dependent on the decisions and actions of their fellow citizens or family members. These decisions and actions are largely dependent on the level of basic healthcare knowledge and the availability, or otherwise, of basic healthcare information. What is needed is timely and affordable access to relevant, reliable, easily assimilated and actionable healthcare knowledge. Mobile phones, for which there are over 4 billion (and growing fast) in developing countries can provide the means to fill this gap. The mHealth 2015 project will explore what drives health-related behavior change to ensure that information produces action.

The poster outlined the initial two stages of the project: 1) a scoping exercise – looking at existing frameworks for using mobile phones for providing health information in low-income countries, and 2) data collection and consultation. Data will be collected and analyzed from the 10,000 members of the HIFA Discussion Forums. Discussion will be stimulated on a range of topics for example, content available in the public domain for parents, children and citizens, the importance of health videos in local languages. Interviews will take place with key individuals on their perception of the mHealth goal and likely barriers and drivers to realize the goal by 2015. Interviews will also be held with key telecom providers who have shown interest in the project and who are keen to demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

Preliminary findings from stage 1: Out of an estimated 1500 mHealth projects/programs scanned in various directories and repositories, only 9 were identified that empower people in low-income countries with the information they need to deal effectively with acute healthcare situations. The vast majority of mHealth projects/programs currently in progress are SMS based.

With thanks and acknowledgement to Heather Katzinel, MLS student who worked as a research assistant on the mHealth 2015 project during Fall 2013.

About HIFA 2015

The HIFA2015 community involves more than 10,000 professionals in 167 countries, and includes health workers, publishers, librarians, information technologists, researchers, social scientists, journalists, policy-makers and others – working together towards a shared vision of a world where people are no longer dying or suffering as a result of lack of basic healthcare knowledge. HIFA2015 contributes to the broader goal of the Global Health Workforce Alliance “All people everywhere will have access to a skilled, motivated and supported health worker, within a robust health system.”

You can join HIFA2015 at
http://www.hifa2015.org/joinhifa