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mHealth in Sub-Saharan Africa

DOI: 10.1155/2013/482324

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Mobile phone penetration rates have reached 63% in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and are projected to pass 70% by 2013. In SSA, millions of people who never used traditional landlines now use mobile phones on a regular basis. Mobile health, or mHealth, is the utilization of short messaging service (SMS), wireless data transmission, voice calling, and smartphone applications to transmit health-related information or direct care. This systematic review analyzes and summarizes key articles from the current body of peer-reviewed literature on PubMed on the topic of mHealth in SSA. Studies included in the review demonstrate that mHealth can improve and reduce the cost of patient monitoring, medication adherence, and healthcare worker communication, especially in rural areas. mHealth has also shown initial promise in emergency and disaster response, helping standardize, store, analyze, and share patient information. Challenges for mHealth implementation in SSA include operating costs, knowledge, infrastructure, and policy among many others. Further studies of the effectiveness of mHealth interventions are being hindered by similar factors as well as a lack of standardization in study design. Overall, the current evidence is not strong enough to warrant large-scale implementation of existing mHealth interventions in SSA, but rapid progress of both infrastructure and mHealth-related research in the region could justify scale-up of the most promising programs in the near future. 1. Introduction Mobile phones are increasingly accessible worldwide. There are an estimated 6.8 billion mobile phones being used in the world in 2013, compared to 1 billion in 2002, corresponding to penetration rates of approximately 96% globally: 128% in developed countries and 89% in developing countries [1]. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), the penetration of cell phones is estimated to be 63% in 2013 and projected to pass 70% by 2015 [2]. Hundreds of millions of people in SSA who never gained access to traditional landlines for telecommunication now use mobile phones on a regular basis [3]. In many developing countries, wireless technology is less expensive and more readily available than wired technology [4]. This technology has unique potential to reach large numbers of people living in resource-limited or remote locations. Mobile health (mHealth) is the use of mobile phone technology for health-related purposes. This relatively new, dynamic, and rapidly evolving field includes the development and study of mobile phone applications such as short messaging service (SMS), voice calling, and

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