Mganga is a mobile phone application that was developed by Kenyan PhD student Shikoh Gitau and won her the Google Anita Borg award last year.
The mobile health application that will record, catalogue and map out traditional medicine and knowledge is among the over 200 million m-health platforms in use today.
Mobile phone apps are expected to increase threefold by 2012, according to a recent report from Pyramid Research.
The report ‘Health Check: Key Players in Mobile Healthcare’ says these applications will spur innovation in healthcare delivery and is becoming a new revenue stream for telecoms companies in the developed world.
“Healthcare solutions that are delivered via mobile technology are creating a new frontier of innovation that is driving down costs, increasing access, and improving quality of care,” said Denis Culver, analyst and author of the report.
These applications are mainly designed to help people stay healthy, support patients living with certain diseases, increase health literacy, manage medical information and support compliance.
In the developed world, people pay for the apps to help manage their various health ailments such as diabetes.
However, in Africa the technology is mainly on designing healthcare products or data collection applications to support healthcare.
Personal Digital Assistant (PDAs) for health data collection is the earliest technology intervention in Africa and is still being used along with smart phones.
This includes the AED-Satellife project in Uganda that allows health workers to collect public data at the community level, send it through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or infrared to a health care centre before being sent through the local network to a main server. The correct prognosis is then sent back to the clinicians.
In South Africa, Cell-Life is a programme that uses mobile technology to improve the lives of people infected and affected by HIV.
Health workers monitor a patient whom they visit at home, using data enabled mobile phones they record the patient’s medical status and other relevant factors.
This data is transmitted to the central database where care managers use a web based system to access and monitor patient information.
Kenya has a support system for HIV/Aids patients which sends a message every morning to various people to encourage them to take their medicine.
“So although they may not be prominent, and some might be very academic, m-health applications do exist and are slowly having some effect on health service or in the very least health information delivery in the continent,” said Ms Gitau.
Access and archiving traditional medicine is the main motivator for the development of Ms Gitau’s Mganga application, which is still being researched and at a design stage.
“While we complain of inadequate doctors, many Kenyans do consult a traditional healer or makes use of some traditional healing practices, including taking some herbs,” she said in an interview with Business Daily, adding that the application will take advantage of this knowledge using mobile phones to collect, access and disseminate this information.
“We also aim at having a web portal that people practicing modern medicine can use.”
The growth of these applications according to Mr Culver allows for mobile network operators and smart phone developers as well as hardware and software vendors to develop new systems and devises solely on m-health.