The U.S. is funneling money into mobile health programs. | AP Photo, Politico
The U.S. is funneling money into mobile health programs. | AP Photo, Politico

The article was originally published on Politico on August 4, 2014 by Arthur Allen.

As African leaders gather for a summit with President Barack Obama this week, U.S. health agencies are beginning to invest in programs to help expand mobile health technology, which has the potential to dramatically improve life for millions in sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region. Simple mobile telephone text messages can be used to help keep AIDS medication stocked at a remote clinic, or to summon an ambulance in time to save a baby’s life.

Sub-Saharan African nations have leapfrogged into cellphone use over the past two decades. In countries like Kenya, where only about 1 percent of the population had land lines, more than 90 percent now access to their own mobile device, or at least one owned by a relative or a village elder.

In Uganda, texts sent through a phone-based system called mTrac keep isolated AIDS and vaccine clinics stocked with drugs. In the past, they often ran out for weeks. UNICEF is launching software based on mTrac for use in other countries. It is about to be tried in Afghanistan and Somalia.

During a 2012 outbreak of Marburg virus, which causes terrible symptoms similar to Ebola, Uganda’s Ministry of Health used mTrac to send 9,900 SMS messages to 825 health workers and health teams in the affected districts.

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