Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Can a mobile phone change the world?

There's been a very vibrant online discussion on various blogs about mobile phones being used to detect disease, based on a recent article from Wired Magazine article about mobile phones as laboratory.

Nathaniel Whittemore wrote on www.change.org,

"Wired wrote yesterday about a cell-phone modification that could bring on-the-spot disease detection and monitoring to even the most remote corners of the world. The phone has its lens removed and modified with an LED light source that reveals particular properties of the blood when lit. The camera sensor can then image the blood, creating a diagnostic lab all in a cell phone...

So imagine this.

It's 2011, and a lot has changed in our approach to global health promotion. First, we've established a Department of Development that recognizes that prevention goes a lot further than treatment, and has begun to make strategic investments in technology and training around the world. Michael Kleinman is the director, with Paul Farmer as his Senior Adviser, of course. One of the early initiatives was the promotion of a global health corps which was focused on training community health workers, the backbone of most health systems. To enable even more effective home care, these community health workers have cell-phones outfitted with the LUCAS mobile test system above, and use Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS technology to immediately send results to a global epidemiological database from which regional and international teams can analyze trends in disease prevalence. Nonprofits and national agencies consult with the doctors monitoring the global database to design interventions that strategically head-off possible epidemics. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies who have negotiated lower rates with national governments, mediated by partners like the Clinton Foundation, employ a partnership with Coca-Cola to use their delivery trucks to get life saving drugs to even the most inaccessible regions. And of course, patients being treated can use their own cheap mobile phones to send messages to health workers about updates in their condition.

Sounds like fantasy? It's not. Everything above is happening or being discussed. The actors are corporate, nonprofit, and government. All it will take is the right collaboration, predicated on a common sense of moral outrage and an understanding of our immense opportunity to create a healthier world."

There are also some good posts that balance the optimism of what we can do with mobile phones with the realities of business models, scale and the need for human capacity and infrastructure as well. I'll post those view points as well.


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