GSMA launches mHealth partnership in 11 African countries

Phase one of the project will launch in September in seven countries

The GSM Association is rallying companies in the telecommunications and health sectors to support the launch of an ambitious mobile health partnership.

The initiative is targeting 15.5 million pregnant mothers who can benefit from valuable information on nutrition and health services available through applications pre-installed in handsets.

"The companies in this partnership are working to deliver the objectives of the United Nations Every Women Every Child Global Strategy, as well as the Global Nutrition for Growth Compact, in the areas of nutrition and maternal and child health," said Tom Phillips, chief regulatory officer at the GSMA, in a press release announcing the partnership. "We call on mobile ecosystem players, health providers, governments, NGOs, civil society and others to work with us to launch life-saving mobile health services."

The partnership is bringing together companies such as MTN, Omega Diagnostics Gemalto, Hello Doctor, Lifesaver, Mobenzi, Mobilium and Samsung. The GSMA launched its Africa office in Nairobi last year and it has been engaging in policy and community projects aimed at improving services in the region. The association has more than 800 members from more than 200 countries.

Under the partnership, Samsung will offer discounted Samsung handsets and tablets -- preloaded with a smart health application that provides a range of professional applications, information and services -- to consumers and health workers across Africa.

The Smart Health app was launched in November last year through a partnership between Samsung and Mobilium with support from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The app provides consumers with ways to identify symptoms and high-risk areas as well as precautionary measures to take in case one has contracted any of the diseases.

On its part, MTN will provide free access to health content, health registration and data collection via the Smart Health application and advertise the service in countries in which MTN provides services. MTN is present in 22 African countries.

The partnership is also expected to make innovative diagnostics like the Omega Diagnostics Visitect HIV CD4 point-of-care solution more affordable and accessible via mobile integration. Visitect HIV CD4 is a disposable test that counts the CD4 counts in the body, to determine if one should start antiretroviral treatment. It was developed by the Burnet Institute in Melbourne, Australia. The partnership will find a way to reduce the need for expensive laboratory equipment.

"Current lab-based static diagnostics tools are unable to meet growing patients' needs as countries step up their HIV treatment programs in conjunction with the decentralization of CD4 testing," said Andrew Shepherd, founder and managing director, Omega Diagnostics. "Multi-layer partnerships for mHealth smartphone applications are poised to become an essential foundation in the bridge to augment the continuum of care to the needy patients, whilst also providing management information and real-time surveillance data."

While the partnership is likely to attract users in the pilot phase, sustainability is one of the challenges facing such initiatives that involve vulnerable groups that have no access to health care. The issue of ethics and consent to the use of data collected through the applications is also likely to be an issue.

Phase one of the project will launch in September in seven countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. Phase two will incorporate additional partners and services in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

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