Small Innovations for a Big Problem
April 21, 2011
In March 2011, the CSIS Global Health Policy Center asked bloggers around the world: What should the key priority of the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases be and why? We had a number of great submissions. Nadi Nina Kaonga & Patricia Mechael's entry was one of our four finalists. Read their entry below and look out in the days and weeks ahead for other finalist's blogs and another blog contest on NCDs.
Nadi Nina Kaonga, mHealth Program Coordinator, Center for Global Health and Economic Development at the Earth Institute, Columbia University
& Patricia Mechael, Director of Strategic Application of Mobile Technologies for Public Health and Development, Center for Global Health and Economic Development at the Earth Institute, Columbia University
Chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are now the major cause of death and disability globally. Over 220 million individuals are affected by diabetes and millions die from the condition each year. Of these diabetes-related deaths, more than 80% occur in developing countries. This is a big problem.
However, it can be addressed. Attending to NCDs will require political action, investment and ingenuity through means like the use of technology. This last component is often overlooked in high-level health policy meetings. As public health practitioners with collective experience in over thirty countries, spanning over fifteen years, we have seen that the use of technology to leverage health outcomes is not typically on the agenda nor is discussed. Things need to change. The upcoming UN high Level Meeting on NCDs is the perfect opportunity to affect change and set the standard for such discussions on technology and health.
Mobile technologies have already been in use to support initiatives combating infectious diseases and NCDs alike. What makes mobile telephony initiatives even more appealing and compelling is versatility – the ability to provide a range of services through a multiplicity of mechanisms from voice and text-based services to gaming to remote patient monitoring to self-management and care. Many of the mobile platforms and applications that are targeted at infectious diseases can be expanded for use on chronic diseases. For example, in South Africa, the Praekelt Foundation is expanding their HIV SMS appointment and medication reminder initiatives to apply to chronic conditions such as diabetes. For smartphones, applications have been developed that allow the mobile phone to function as a wireless glucose meter. Users can upload, track and manage their blood glucose reading using a simple phone app and wireless meter. Nokia’s diabetes app has been downloaded over 150,000 times with the most downloads in the Middle East. Some apps and platforms have enhanced features that even allow the patient to remotely interact with and have their condition monitored closely by their healthcare provider.
Through such tools, individuals with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, are better equipped to manage their condition. Furthermore, the use of mobile technology on NCDs has been shown to lead to improved health outcomes. Several trials on diabetes management through the use of tailored SMSes as compared to standard care found significantly improved health indicators in the intervention group compared to the trial group, including reduced weight and decreased hemoglobin A1c3 levels between the two groups over time.
It is evident that technology, as small and simple as a mobile phone or even an app, can help leverage positive health outcomes for diseases. Therefore, a key priority of the upcoming UN meeting on NCDs should focus on the strategic integration of mobile technology into existing and upcoming initiatives combating NCDs.