Leading players in the mobile phone industry and the U.S. Government have joined forces to fight HIV/AIDS and other health challenges in 10 African countries. Phones for Health is a cutting-edge US$10 million public-private partnership, which brings together mobile phone operators, handset manufacturers and technology companies - working in close collaboration with Ministries of Health, global health organizations, and other partners - to use the widespread and increasing mobile phone coverage in the developing world to strengthen health systems.
"The explosive spread of mobile phone networks across the developing world has created a unique opportunity to significantly transform how countries can tackle global health challenges," said Dr. Howard Zucker, Assistant Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), representing the WHO at the Partnership's launch at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona.
The Phones for Health partners - the GSM Association's Development Fund, the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Accenture Development Partnerships, Motorola, MTN and Voxiva - are initially focused on 10 African countries, building on an already successful deployment in Rwanda. The partnership is also likely to be extended further in Africa and Asia to address tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious diseases.
Phones for Health will allow health workers in the field to use a standard Motorola handset equipped with a downloadable application to enter health data. Once entered, the data is transferred via a packet based mobile connection (GPRS) into a central database. If GPRS isn't available, the software can use a SMS data channel to transmit the information. The data is then mapped and analyzed by the system, and is immediately available to health authorities at multiple levels via the web. The system also supports SMS alerting and other tools for communication with field staff.
"Rapid and accurate communications channels are crucial to tackling the many health problems faced by African countries and other parts of the developing world," said Rob Conway, Chief Executive of the GSM Association. "The roll out of this health management software in Africa will clearly demonstrate how governments can exploit the expanding mobile infrastructure to enhance the well-being of their citizens."
"People living with HIV in the developing world deserve high-quality treatment and care, and this innovative partnership will ensure that health workers and program managers get the timely, relevant information they need -- even when they serve patients in the most remote areas," said Ambassador Mark Dybul, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.
In many African countries, fixed-line Internet connections are rare and paper forms are still the primary way of recording the spread of disease. But more than 60% of the population now lives in areas with mobile phone coverage and the GSMA expects that figure to rise to 85% by 2010. This makes it feasible to use mobile phones to relay this information directly into health authorities' computer systems, allowing rapid interventions such as distribution of medication and education programmes for those at risk. MTN, which operates in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East, is the first operator partner in this programme and will support the roll out of handsets and the underlying data service.
"Health workers will also be able to use the system to order medicine, send alerts, download treatment guidelines, training materials and access other appropriate information," said Paul Meyer, Chairman of Voxiva, the company that has designed the software. "Managers at the regional and national level can access information in real-time via a web based database."
The Phones for Health alliance builds on the partners' successful experience in Rwanda deploying a system built by Voxiva called TRACnet. Working in close co-operation with the Government of Rwanda and PEPFAR, the system has been used for the last 2 years to manage that country's national HIV/AIDS programme. "This technology is revolutionizing how data is captured in the field," said Dr. Louis Munyakaze, Director General of Rwanda's National Institute of Statistics.
"With TRACnet, we have a powerful tool to manage the HIV and AIDS programme and deliver care to Rwanda's patients affected by HIV and AIDS. Health care workers use something as simple as a cellphone - even where there is no electricity - to report on the number of patients on treatment, drug stock levels and the other key data we need," said Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Executive Secretary, Rwanda's National AIDS Control Commission. "Rwanda is the first country in Africa with a national-scale, real-time information system to manage its HIV and AIDS programme. We believe this can be a model for scaling up HIV and AIDS programmes across Africa and can be extended to TB, malaria and other diseases."
"The Phones for Health Partnership is at once an acknowledgement of the strength and depth of mobile communications in emerging markets, as well as the push to use technology to help solve the serious health problems prevalent across the globe," added MTN Group President and CEO, Phuthuma Nhleko. "MTN, through the MTN Foundation is involved in other initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS in many of its operations in Africa and we are proud to be one of the first operators to be associated with this project."
About the Partners
GSM Association's Development Fund - The GSM Association is a global trade association, representing more than 700 mobile operators with over 2 billion subscribers in 217 countries. The GSMA's Development Fund is providing support to develop the core applications for Phones for Health and support for the in-country implementations. The GSMA will also be responsible for managing the Partnership's relationships with mobile operators and handset manufacturers. This role includes reaching out to additional mobile operators to join the Partnership and negotiating the terms of their involvement.
Motorola - Motorola is a Fortune 100 company engaged in the design, manufacture, marketing, and sale of mobility products worldwide. Motorola will support the optimization of mobile phone based health applications on a range of Motorola phones. Motorola will also provide expertise and support in provisioning and distributing phones and rolling out the application infrastructure in each country.
MTN - MTN is the leading mobile operator in Africa with operations in 21 countries. MTN is the lead operator for the Partnership for the initial country deployments. MTN will provide the hosting infrastructure for hosting the applications in each country, in-bound 800 services, SMS and GPRS services to support the use of the applications. MTN will also support the handset distribution and training of end-users. MTN will provide these services on a subsidized basis.
Accenture - Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Accenture Development Partnerships is a not-for-profit group within Accenture that provides business and technology consulting services to organizations working in the international development sector. Working through Accenture Development Partnerships, Accenture will provide overall project management support and support for in-country deployments.
Voxiva - Voxiva is a provider of health management information systems across the developing world. Voxiva will provide overall programme coordination and management, core application software, application management services, project management and training support to countries.
The U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief - PEPFAR is the largest commitment ever by any nation for an international health initiative dedicated to a single disease - a five year, US$15 billion, multifaceted approach to combating HIV/AIDS around the world. As part of the Phones for Health initiative, PEPFAR will provide initial support of US$2 million to this alliance for system expansion in Rwanda and Nigeria in 2007. PEPFAR will also supply a broad range of expertise in the system content area, and support implementation on the ground through its country teams.