Digital Healthcare

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Once African countries establish a critical mass of local health officers to serve as first responders, they could harness the power of mobile telephony to dramatically increase the scope of more extensively trained health workers, such as doctors and nurses. The technology is readily available. In fact, most people in sub-Saharan Africa already have access to mobile phones through friends, family, or group sharing agreements. Moreover, typical African countries have 2G and 3G data service and coverage rivaling that of the United States, often with better reception.

A successful model, we believe, would employ urban call centers staffed by clinical officers,6 nurses, and doctors. Instead of serving patients directly, these centers would act as hubs that increase the impact of local health officers by providing them with advanced clinical support (exhibit)—for example, in making diagnoses in the field. (Mozambique has successfully used mobile phone–based diagnostic tools for this purpose.)