Computerworld Honors 2013: Critical health data sent to rural Ghana via mobile

The statistics are staggering: Worldwide in 2011, 6.9 million children died before their fifth birthday and nearly 300,000 women died during pregnancy or childbirth.

Many of those deaths were due to a lack of trained healthcare professionals working in rural areas, which leaves residents in such regions highly vulnerable to diseases and debilitating emergencies. They often face significantly shortened life spans as a result.

Modern technology can change that situation, with one example being the delivery of health information via mobile phone to improve the accessibility and quality of healthcare and therefore individuals' health in many poor, remote regions of the world.

The Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative in Ghana is examining how to best achieve that result. The program aims to determine how to use mobile phones to increase the availability and quality of prenatal and neonatal care in rural Ghana, with the goal of improving health outcomes for mothers and their newborns.

MOTECH has two interrelated mobile applications: Mobile Midwife and the Nurse Application. MOTECH links these components, so if a patient misses a scheduled prenatal appointment, the Mobile Midwife service sends a message to remind the woman to go to the clinic. If she fails to attend, her nurse is alerted via text message, enabling the nurse to quickly follow up with the patient.

Through the initiative, community healthcare providers collect patient data and upload records to a centralized database. Patient records are analyzed to establish personalized care schedules, and reminders are sent to nurses and patients about care visits.

The MOTECH system was launched in the Upper East Region of Ghana in June 2010 and was brought to Ghana's Central Region in September 2011. So far, the project has trained 266 community health workers, uploaded close to 150,000 medical records and reached more than 20,000 enrollees, including 10,000-plus Mobile Midwife patients. It has delivered close to 60,000 messages.

Like any technology project, MOTECH had to successfully deliver on numerous points, from developing content to registering users to providing nurses with dedicated mobile phones. And the project continues to address additional challenges and needs, such as creating a simplified register that gathers the most essential patient data to streamline data collection for health workers in rural health facilities and to better track patients over time.

As the project moves forward, there are plans to develop culturally appropriate content for more regions and translate content into more languages, as well as expand MOTECH's uses and geographic reach. The project team is also working with the Ghana Health Service to carry out a baseline study and establish monitoring and evaluation frameworks.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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