In South Africa, there is no shortage of diversity. Immigrants, natives, city-dwellers and tribal members share a landscape that ranges from cosmopolitan to provincial. However, even in rural areas where basic infrastructure may be lacking, people can now stay connected to family and keep up on global events through their cellphones. Thus, the mobile technology boom has led to a leap-frog effect on communication.

Now, taking advantage of this mobile infrastructure, South Africa has started to roll out a series of new projects aimed at improving access and lessening the burden on the health system.

Most of the mHealth technologies being developed utilize “basic” cellphones. This is because, while most South Africans have cellphones, only a limited number have smartphones.  Further, many of these mHealth advances are collaborations between the South African government and the private sector, involving organizations such as mHealthAlliance, GeoMed, and cellphone companies.

One such mHealth enterprise is named Intertel, launched by FolioOnline.  Similar to telephone interpretation services available in many US hospitals, this cell phone-based medical interpretation service provides interpreters trained in 32 different South African languages for medical interviews and patient communication.

Other South African mHealth products being considered are:

  • Cell-life, a project involved with the government’s HIV testing campaign, using donated phones
  • eThekwini – a S. African Dept of Health endeavor to use cellphones in the monitoring and management of Tuberculosis patients
  • Patient data collection via cellphone by S. African-based research company, Mobenzi.

The “Rainbow Nation” hopes that implementation of these measures can alleviate some of the strain on its medical resources.  While there will undoubtedly be some initial concerns regarding appropriate utilization of these tools, in the near future South Africans might not only use the phone to catch up on family and global news, but also to communicate with their doctor about their health and well-being.

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