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Mobile Phones To Fill Poor Nations' Healthcare Gap? 52

Ian Lamont writes "The Industry Standard has reported on a couple of projects that aim to turn the humble mobile phone into a tool that can improve healthcare systems in the developing world. While poor countries lack adequate healthcare facilities, many have booming mobile phone use, even in rural areas. One company spawned by the MIT Media Lab seeks to leverage widespread mobile phone use with a Java app that lets community workers refer patients for treatment, fill out questionnaires about patient health and send real-time information back to doctors at health clinics. Another hardware-focused project started by a group of researchers at UCLA aims to create a device that can be attached to mobile phones and test blood samples for HIV, malaria, and other diseases, and send the test results to a hospital. However, it's not clear whether most mobile phones in developing countries can support these technologies, or if local healthcare infrastructures can effectively use the data generated by mobile phones."
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Mobile Phones To Fill Poor Nations' Healthcare Gap?

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  • Convergence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @11:21PM (#26367705) Homepage Journal

    I've heard of convergence, but I think this is taking it a little far. Why do companies that want to design a device, function, whatever, always immediately think "Let's make a mobile phone that does that!!"

    What the hell makes you think a cellphone would make a good mobile health lab? One person with HIV or malaria is going to get one of these, test themselves, not clean it properly, then infect the rest of the village as they run around testing everybody else.
    Most places needing this type of testing won't even have clean water, much less an autoclave, which is what you really need to properly sterilize any medical equipment like this.

    Here's an idea:
    Rather than making it a cellphone attachment, build a small device, the size of a big toolbox, or a bit bigger, that will do what's needed. Put a decent battery in it, solar panels and a wind generator, and a small autoclave. Make it as automated as possible.
    Bingo. Renewable energy powered, clean and safe health testing for a village. Then, you can use the power and heat capabilities of this thing to boil water, and get non-malaria-infected water for these people to drink, too.

    Try that with a cellphone.


  • Re:Tricorder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @11:45PM (#26367885) Journal

    Funny enough, previous discussions on this topic took exactly that form. Cellular phones with test kit additions to make field labs for common tests is a fair assessment of a pre-beta tricorder. One of the fantastic things about such devices is that while many developing countries might afford cellular infrastructure, they won't devote huge sums of money for a clinic than can only be reached by foot, and then only after 2+ hours of walking. This would put a big knowledge base and reasonable field testing in quick reach of such places. IMO it is an altogether superior answer to the problem. Further development of the field test kits will only improve medical care for those who have historically been too far in the boonies for any to get to them.

    Imagine someone who is 4 hours away from a road, never mind a clinic getting advice from a Boston specialist? I think that is awesome! If they can do it cheap enough for developing countries, perhaps it will catch on in the US. That would cut waiting times, costs, and probably revive better parts of common medical care giving.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2009 @11:48PM (#26367913) Journal
    "Healthcare" isn't really a unitary phenomenon.

    High-end American healthcare? Quite probably the best, no big surprise that people would come for that, if they can afford it.

    Average American healthcare? Not bad at all, definitely first world; but, per dollar spent, surprisingly sucky.

    Lower than average American healthcare? Pretty unexciting. The number of uninsured people who get to let their chronic and/or preventable conditions fester until they are severe enough for the ER is bad news.

    That's the thing: America has some of the best healthcare available; but that care isn't widely available, and the lower tiers fall off rather sharply, especially when you account for things beyond immediate medical outcomes(be cured is nice, not becoming homeless in the process, though, would also be nice). It's actually pretty similar to our educational system. Our best is really, really good; but we manage to pay extraordinary amounts for mediocrity or worse, as well.
  • Re:Tricorder (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) * on Thursday January 08, 2009 @12:21AM (#26368149) Homepage

    Imagine someone who is 4 hours away from a road, never mind a clinic getting advice from a Boston specialist?

    You can do that without your pre-beta tricorder. That, after all, is what a cell phone does - allow you to talk to people. But the whole premise of this "test" system is a bit stupid. Rural third world clinics don't need advanced diagnostic testing - they need simple treatment protocols and equipment.

    Malaria can be diagnosed clinically, so can AIDS. HIV infection not so much, but if you're out in the middle-of-fucking-nowhere Africa you don't have access to antiretrovirals. You need a condom. Current HIV antibody tests are pretty damned simple - they use the same basic technology that home pregnancy tests use and can be dragged anywhere on the planet. They're just (relatively) expensive.

    It's a ding-bat high tech way to make somebody feel better (and some bucks on the side) without doing much of anything. I'm beginning to wonder about MIT. They seem to have an odd way of trying to help the so-called third world - the OLPC comes to mind. And this. What the third world needs is a way to get some basic government in place that won't simultaneously rape the populace and the environment. The rest is pretty easy.

  • Re:Convergence? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday January 08, 2009 @01:16AM (#26368463) Journal
    I don't think that this is a "brown people are incapable of hygiene" thing; but a "the world over, expensive medical equipment has a way of being reused under economic pressure, unless fairly strong constraints are in place" thing.

    Even in modern, western, deeply-afraid-of-malpractice-suits medical settings, medical devices are commonly engineered with hope of avoiding unsafe reuse in mind. Just look at the number of single-use syringe designs, for example.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson