Mobile technologies are increasingly growing in developing countries like Pakistan. There have been several new researches and developments in this field around the globe. Currently, mobile phone is becoming a momentous Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tool not only in urban regions but also in remote and rural areas. The rapid expansion in the technologies, simplicity to use and the falling costs of devices; make the mobile an appropriate and adaptable tool to bridge the digital divide.
In Pakistan mobile phone ownership is growing rapidly; 87 percent of Pakistani households own mobile phones and cellular subscription in Pakistan reached 136.5 million at the end of March 2014. Evidence from selected studies carried out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) shows that mobile phones have become the most important mode of telecommunication in developing countries. The rapid expansion of mobile technologies within health service delivery and public health service delivery and public health systems has created a range of new opportunities to deliver new forms of interactive health services to patients, clinicians, and caregivers alike.
There has been explosion of mobile health (m-health) activities around the world and the expansion of mobile and wireless technologies has set up an incomparable opportunity for health. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) approximated that there are now over 6 billion wireless subscribers, with more than 70 per cent of them residing low and middle income countries. Mobile phone networks cover at least 90 per cent of the worlds population, including over 80 per cent of those living in rural areas. A 2011 worldwide study of 114 nations undertaken by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that m-health initiatives have been established in many countries, but there is variation in adoption levels. The ability of developing countries to overcome health challenges is hindered by several core barriers, among them a global shortage of healthcare workers. Among 57 countries, mostly in the developing world, there is a critical shortfall in healthcare workers, representing a total deficit of 2.4 million healthcare workers worldwide, according to the WHO.
In recent years, m-health has emerged as an important sub-segment of the field of electronic health (e-health). While there is no widely agreed to definition for these fields, the public health community has coalesced around these definitions:
• E-health: Using information and communication technology (ICT) – such as computers, mobile phones, and satellite communication for health services and information.
• e-health: Using mobile communication – such as PDAs and mobile devices for health services and information.
Mobile communication offers an effective means of bringing healthcare services to developing countries citizens. With low cost handsets and the penetration of mobile phone networks globally, tens of millions of citizens that never had regular access of fixed-line telephone or computer now use mobile devices as daily tool for communication and data transfer. A growing number of developing countries are using mobile technology to address health needs. The m-health field is remarkably dynamic, and the range of applications being designed is constantly expanding. The key applications for m-health in developing countries are:
Education and awareness
i. Remote data collection
ii. Remote monitoring
iii. Communication and training for healthcare workers
iv. Disease and epidemic outbreak tracking
v. Diagnostic and treatment support
The m-health has been incorporated into the field of health in an attempt to address the wide variety of challenges facing developing country systems, such as skilled worker shortage; lack of timely reporting for surveillance and diagnostics; poor treatment adherence; poor inventory and supply chain management. According to WHO governments in low and middle income countries are expressing interest in mHealth as a complementary strategy for strengthening health system and achieving the health related MDGs. The m-health is not only well-positioned to address these challenges using currently available technology but also emerging technologies such as wide-area wireless systems, will also be an asset in tackling todays health challenges and those of tomorrow. In Pakistan, m-health applications can be designed as an integral part of the overall health system, and policymakers are in a unique position to shape these efforts.
One of the most important roles to play in this regard is in driving innovation through incentives. Incentives can include tax rebates to telecom providers for provision of m-health services, and funding for universities and researchers studying mHealth solutions. Only by thinking big, and acting immediately, m-health can make a meaningful contribution to achieving health related MDGs by the 2015 deadline.