A Medical Lifesaver: How Africa Can Survive Through The Use Of Mobile Phones
Africa is the world’s poorest inhabited continent – and this poverty has huge knock-on effects on every aspect of life. Take healthcare: outside of the major urban centres, medicine is scarce across the continent and trained doctors are even harder to come by. This in turn affects mortality rates while ensuring underdeveloped areas still suffer from crippling diseases, we in the West and Industrial East managed to wipe out decades ago. Fortunately, the rise of cheap technology has led to some unexpected reinforcements in the battle for Africa’s poor – and the tide may now be turning.
More than anywhere, Kenya is leading the charge in alternative healthcare. Thanks to the utter ubiquity of mobile phones, newly designed apps are allowing carriers to remotely check their vital signs by analysing urine samples and even checking blood sugar. If it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, rest assured that’s not the case. The use of these handheld digital hospitals stretches even further than basic diagnostic tests – by utilising a smart phone’s network capabilities, witnesses at the scene of an accident can alert the authorities via Facebook or even Twitter, allowing an ambulance to be dispatched as quickly as humanly possible. At their most extreme, mobile phones can even allow the doling out of advice while a pregnant woman gives birth: a form of remote mid-wifery absolutely unparalleled in human culture.
But it’s not all technological miracles and life-changing apps. Some very basic problems still exist within the continent’s health system that no amount of futuristic gizmos is going to change. Firstly, coverage is a major issue. Large tracts of land have absolutely zero network presence, rendering mobile phones useless. A second issue is the vast distances that compromise Africa’s interior. Huge swathes of the continent are virtually empty – an undulating, desolate plain dotted with tiny settlements, outcasts from mainstream existence. If a builder in one of these invisible towns slips from his ladder and injures himself it hardly matters how good or bad cellular coverage is. If the nearest city is many hours’ drive away, by the time the ambulance arrives, he chances will have shrunk to almost zero.
Then there’s the cost of healthcare. Most African nations have no form of socialised healthcare or even insurance system, meaning the very poorest are devastated in more ways than one by an accident. Again, you could have great reception and be within minutes of a hospital – if they won’t treat you on arrival it won’t do any good. A final point might be the particularly virulent forms of bacteria found near the equator – any large scale public health initiative is bound to sooner or later run into the malarial obstacle (among others).
At the end of the day, mobile phones are a useful tool in the battle against disease and injury in Africa, but certainly not the cure. Until the rapidly-industrialising countries institute a form of socialised, far-reaching healthcare it won’t make a noticeable dent in the high mortality rates. Equally, extreme poverty will continue to be an enhancing factor in the number of cases reported each year, until some form of collectivist wealth redistribution takes place. Until that time comes, the onus falls on mobile phone companies to expand their coverage and try to bring that razor-thin lifeline of hope to as many as possible. It may be practically impossible in some places, but experts agree that it is at least worth trying.
Like all tools, phones are only as good as the people who use them. The hope is that, one day, they will be replaced by world-class medical provision. Until that day, they remain a lifesaving alternative to governmental ennui and crippling poverty.
Author: Guest writer Miss Beswick and the Call South Africa team at dialtosave.co.uk wrote this article for you. We look forward to seeing further developments in mobile technology saving lives.