The mHealth Summit: Taking a closer look at a global phenomenon

By Patty Mechael, PhD, MHS, executive director of the mHealth Alliance

In October, the United Nations reported that the world's population had reached 7 billion, and yet the WHO estimates there are only 9.2 million physicians globally. That's an average of roughly 760 people per physician, but it is by no means so evenly divided.

In low-income countries, the average is more than 4,800 people per physician. As mobile phone coverage and usage increases around the world, there is no better time for the advancement and adoption of mHealth.

mHealth has spread to the farthest reaches of mobile networks, propelled by implementers across multiple sectors: international organizations like the WHO, ITU and UNICEF; NGOs like the Grameen Foundation and World Vision; multi-national companies such as Hewlett Packard and Vodafone; governments like Rwanda and Chile; entrepreneurial companies like Praekelt and PesiNet; associations like the GSMA; and grassroots programs between community health workers and nurse mid-wives.

Developing countries are moving ahead of developed countries in some aspects of mHealth, most notably scaling up. This phenomenon is demonstrated throughout the mHealth Summit's program, with spotlights on promoting the deployment of mHealth nationally in Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia, regulatory considerations in Mali and building national stakeholder connections in Bangladesh.
 
Over the past few years, the mHealth field has made significant progress by gaining public attention, developing innovative models and systems and building the evidence base to demonstrate operational efficiencies and positive impact on health outcomes. Yet there is much work to be done to address the persistent constraints on the advancement of mHealth, constraints that continue to limit the potential mHealth can have on the world.
 
Today mobile technology can be used to improve health systems and outcomes. mHealth can deliver vital information to expectant mothers, track medication supplies and avoid stock-outs, guide continuing medical education, guide medical decisions and support remote diagnoses. I believe that one day individual citizens and health workers alike will be able to engage seamlessly with health systems via mobile technology.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the convening and active engagement of all the mHealth stakeholders, from citizens and clinicians to software developers, from policy-making and regulatory agencies to community health workers and – of course – mobile service providers and pharmaceutical companies. The mHealth Summit is a keystone event in the processes of building connections, learning from one another and developing best practices as we move forward.

As the mHealth Summit grows each year, it brings together a group of experts with increasing experience and diversity. There is always an innovative idea, a unique solution and someone new to the mHealth field with a fresh perspective. Of all the valuable aspects of the summit, it is the impromptu conversations and connections that I value the most – meeting new people, talking with established colleagues and learning approaches I had never thought of before. It is a time to assess how far we've come, how far we aim to go and how we plan to get there.

At the mHealth Alliance, it is our mission to support those exchanges year-round. We have been examining our position and developing a strategy for 2012 and beyond, and during the summit we will announce new priorities and unique opportunities for the mHealth community. The mHealth Alliance serves as the hub for collaborations that will help build more evidence, exchanges that will identify routes of integration and conversations that will define the scope of future policies and sustainable financing models related to mHealth. We look forward to working with you.

The mHealth Alliance is an mHealth Summit organizing partner.

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