Another story on the cell in Africa – the way to better rural health care?

How will future development of health care in the global south come about in the future? A good guess is that brain drain of doctors migrating from Africa to Europe and USA will continue and that rural clinics will see few local doctors in the near future. In Malawi a new tech project FrontlineSMS Medic is pioneering new SMS based consultation services and already proving services for 25 clinics.

The platform is based on Kenn Banks FrontlineSMS platform developed in 2004 and since utilized in a number of different settings across the world. The core of the platform is a laptop with cell phone connection, which enables users to receive and forward text warning, questions or medicine guidance to users without the need of an internet connection. For clinics in Malawi this means that staff workers wondering about everything from the right doze of medicine to the diagnosis, the SMS-service saves hours of driving to the nearest hospital. In this way FrontlineSMS helps building skills for local clinic staffs to improve the quality of services and offer treatment closer to users. FrontlineSMS is open sourced, cheap to run and already partner with big guys like the Clinton Global Initiative.

The great thing about the cell phone story is Africa and other places is its unique usability and functionality which simply allows peoples creativity to work within all fields of development. One of the biggest mistakes about the African cell phone story must be expect it to be a an engine for limited fields such as communication and media. Surely FrotnlineSMS:Media doesn´t provide a revolution of health care overnight, but they do deliver an open source service, which cost close to nothing (500 dollar per clinic). Thereby FrontlineSMS serves as an example on how to create afordable health care solutions globally, with a continous lack of doctors and growing costs.

Obamas 23 billion dollar investment to update the health journals of US citizens shows a scary example of the costs of health care improvements, so for most countries another cheaper way is most needed. The next generation of health care initiatives in the global south will be implementing cell phone based electronic storage of health information, where among others Nokia are moving fast with Frontline. It will be interesting to see if Fronline can saty small while growing and thereby keep the services afordable, open source and easy to implement, at the same time as they get involved with the big NGO-guys. We are looking forward to hear more!