LIVE FROM THE GSMA-mHA MOBILE HEALTH SUMMIT: Obed Bapela, Deputy Minister of Communications for South Africa, opened today’s event with a message that there is enormous potential for mobile health services but barriers to mainstream success must be overcome.
“ICT is essential to improving the quality of life, particularly in rural areas… mobile health can indeed play a significant role in reaching this objective,” Bapela stated. “It can contribute to a long and healthy life for all South Africans.” He added that the high mobile penetration rate in South Africa would be a catalyst for mHealth deployments.
Bapela sees four main benefits of mobile health: increasing life expectancy, decreasing maternal and child mortality rates, combating HIV/AIDS and controlling tuberculosis, and strengthening the entire health ecosystem.
However, the deputy minister warned there are a number of hurdles the country has to overcome for mobile health services to become mass market. “Paramount to this is the question of affordability – the cost of communication in Africa remains high,” he said. He added that mobile health should not be viewed in isolation with more established ehealth services, but complementary. “And mobile health should fully comply with the National Health Act in terms of privacy and doctor/patient confidentiality… Lastly mobile health should align with health counsels’ ethical guidelines.”
Bapela recognised the role that governments can play in driving this nascent market: “We can help to create an atmosphere that is conducive to the development of mobile health; we can only do this by adopting ICT policies that help growth in mobile health technologies.” Examples include encouraging the allocation of radio spectrum and partnerships between the public/private sectors.
He concluded with the hope that decisions taken this week at the Summit would be adopted at the World Health Organisation and United Nations. On a positive note, he said he expects to see mobile health services “live beyond pilot projects for the mainstream development of health policies in South Africa, Africa and other developing countries.”