Developing nations to garner mHELP

September 16, 2013 in Medical Technology

The mHealth Alliance is looking to lend a helping hand to mHealth programs and projects in developing nations.

In a partnership with Johnson + Johnson, the Washington, D.C.-based global organization is launching the mHealth Expert Learning Program (mHELP), offering advice and other services “to address a persistent gap in the capacity of health programs and service implementers to design and deploy mobile health in low-resource settings.”

“The problem that we’re trying to address is that there is a lot of interest in mHealth around the world … but it’s still a big risk for officials to take on,” said Peter Benjamin, the MHA’s director of capacity building, who unveiled the new program at this week’s mHealthEd conference in Dublin, Ireland. “There are still very few proven, tested models – everyone in mHealth is still a pioneer.”

[See also: mHealth Alliance joins ‘mPowering Frontline Health Workers.]

“We want to provide the expertise,” he added. “We don’t want anyone to have to build (an mHealth program) from scratch.”

Benjamin said the program will be rolled out in three stages, the first of which consists of a network of 40-50 “proven, validated experts” who can offer advice to new or growing projects within a couple days (the MHA is now seeking candidates to join this group). Next year, the program will introduce formal training courses, most likely through certain universities in the United States and South Africa; and after that the program will develop more comprehensive consulting services with technical support and in-country experts.

“mHealth and eHealth are increasingly transforming the way public health and health services are being accessed by and delivered to those living in low- and middle-income countries, but institutions are often hindered by the lack of adequate expertise or experience,” said Patricia Mechael, the MHA’s executive director, in a September 12 press release announcing the launch of mHELP. “In the course of the past year, we have moved from a question of ‘if’ mHealth to a question of ‘how’ do we approach it? mHELP’s unique model will open a direct channel to technical assistance and support for individuals, governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations, effectively filling gaps in capacity and giving global health stakeholders the tools and expertise needed to bring projects to scale.”

[See also: Mobile health won’t replace need for doctors, mHealth champion says.]

mHELP is already lending a hand in two African projects. In Tanzania, the group is working with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) to create a cellphone-based registration and decision support system to combat mother-to-child transmission of the HIV virus. And in South Africa, the group is working with that nation’s Department of Health to develop a coherent, mHealth-based national maternal and child health framework, targeting (among other things) the diagnosis and treatment of HIV and AIDS.

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