Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Developing Countries & mHealth

As reported in the NIH Fogarty International Center’s recent newsletter, a public health challenge facing developing countries is to provide safe breast milk to infants born to HIV-positive mothers. The problem is very severe in Sub-Saharan Africa, where studies have shown that around 40 percent of babies have become infected with the virus as a result of mother-to-child transmission during breastfeeding.

Rohit Chaudhri, a computer science expert from the University of Washington has designed a mobile health intervention to help mothers, caretakers, and health workers in South Africa produce greater quantities of safe milk.

Pasteurization is known to deactivate HIV and other contaminants in breast milk and can be done at home by HIV-positive mothers. However, the process must be monitored to ensure that essential nutrients are not destroyed when heating the milk. Collaborating with the international health organization PATH, and two South African institutions, Chaudhri has developed a monitoring system that pairs a food-grade temperature probe with an android mobile phone.

Just before hitting the high temperature point, the phone beeps twice to alert the user that the milk is almost heated, at that time, the message on the screen changes and the phone beeps continuously until the jar is removed. The message onscreen then indicates that the milk is cooling. The phone is also able to send data to a server to be reviewed. Chaudhri and his colleagues will carry out a field trial in 2012 at the neonatal ward at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban.

In Peru, mobile health tools are being used to manage diabetes since this country has two million diabetics with almost half of them unaware of their diagnosis. A study was done at a public hospital in Lima with 17 diabetic patients enrolled using C@reNet an mHealth tool capable of sending text messages related to individual risk factors, provide drug intake reminders, provide lab test results, and able to update medical appointments.

This is the first mHealth tool used to address the comprehensive care of diabetics or it could be used for other chronic patients in Peru. It is one of the first types of mHealth technology to be used in Latin America. The C@reNet project was funded by the Universidad Peruvian government and implemented by Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in partnership with the company Voxiva.