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Using mHealth to Track and Treat HIV in Remote Africa

The Vodafone Foundation is launching an mHealth program in Lesotho that enables healthcare workers to treat people with HIV, while also paying for transportation costs.

- An international foundation is using an mHealth and online payment platform to improve healthcare services in a tiny African nation where almost 25 percent of the population is HIV positive and many have to walk hours to reach a health clinic.

Photo Courtesy: TripAdvisor

The Vodafone Foundation is launching the platform in Lesotho, a small country of some 2 million people completely surrounded by South Africa. In conjunction with the Lesotho Ministry of Health, the foundation is launching an mHealth app for healthcare workers that ties into a central database and M-Pesa, a mobile money service used throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Through the program, healthcare workers in mobile clinics throughout the country will provide onsite HIV testing, then register those testing positive in the central database. Healthcare providers will use that database to coordinate care for those patients, who can tap into M-Pesa for money to pay for transportation to the nearest health clinic.

While the program is focused on pregnant women, mothers and young children, officials hope to extend it to all of the population eventually. Lesotho’s government has also announced that the program will be fully funded by mid-2017.

The project is one of dozens of mHealth programs focusing on public health issues and vulnerable populations in Africa, which offers plenty of examples to the developed world of how mobile health technology can be used to improve access and outcomes in targeted populations. In nearby Tanzania, for example, a smartphone-based program launched by the University of Glasgow is helping healthcare workers identify, treat and contain rabies. And mHealth and telehealth programs played a significant role in containing the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

Lesotho also makes an ideal testing ground for an mHealth program focused on improving access for underserved populations: The country is mountainous and rural, with 40 percent of the population living below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day.

“Our initial assessment indicated that a combination of mobile technology, money, management and working with the right partners could deliver a significant impact in Lesotho, where nearly a quarter of the population is HIV-positive, many of whom are children,” Vodafone Foundation Director Andrew Dunnett told The Guardian. “HIV is an immense healthcare crisis for the people of Lesotho. This pioneering program will ensure that thousands of mothers and young children in some of the poorest communities in the world receive the care and support they need.”

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