A recent surge in m-Health and e-Health ICT4D initiative are popping up in Egypt and the Middle East. Many of these projects focus on smartphones, 3G networks, wireless internet, and apps to improve health services throughout the region.
Qualcomm, a technology company, is is leading a pilot program in Egypt to see if eHealth and mHealth initiatives will be successful in the region, and there are bigger plans to overhaul the health care system in Egypt (and other North Africa and Middle East countries) to rely more heavily on ICT. Here’s an article about one pilot project (focused on utilizing 3G mobile network to diagnose skin conditions remotely) that is a small piece of the overall vision for the region. According to this article: “The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has facilitated the integration of ICT in health services and the provision of telemedicine to the remote and rural areas of Egypt,” said Dr Hoda Baraka, first deputy to the Minister of ICT. “The Egyptian Teledermatology initiative, using mobile health technology, is inspired by pursuing equal opportunities for health services anywhere in Egypt and expanding medical insurance to all citizens. E-health programs bring better diagnostic and health services to a wider segment of the Egyptian society.”
In researching this pilot project more, I’ve found another article that points out an overall vision of mhealth for the region. Apparently, ” Qualcomm is working with regional governments and mobile operators in the Middle East to create country-wide mobile health systems within the next three to five years, according to a report in Reuters. Qualcomm is currently looking into opening offices in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt in mid-2011.” This is a very ambitious ICT4D initiative that could revolutionize health in the region. However, it is important to focus on possible limitations, infrastructure, environment, and usage of ICT in the region to assess the plausibility of such projects. The same article that sites the plan for implementing a country-wide mobile health system that relies heavily on smart phones, apps, wireless internet, and 3G network access also noted a very important piece of information: Egypt only has 6-7% smartphone penetration. This seems like a very large problem for the m-health project. A national health plan that relies on patients having access to smartphones may lead to many unintended consequences. Digital divide that exist among the target populations may turn into to major divides in access to health care, which could exacerbate cycles of poverty and exclude already marginalized populations. I think this project deals with many of the topics we have discussed in class and relates to many of the readings. I am interested to see what classmates think about the positives and negatives of these initiatives. Will these mhealth efforts help improve medical care in rural areas or will it widen inequalities?