MIT: Ten big global challenges technology could solve (2) Hesperian and Red Cross

25 March, 2019

Dear James and all,

James said: "part of the issue is that groups such as Hesperian and the Red Cross have decided against using actual open licenses"

I am sure there would be some advantages to having an open license, but I am equally sure this would not lead to ubiquitous penetration of these apps onto people's mobile phones.

Both Hesperian and Red Cross are represented on the Mobile Healthcare Information For All working group. They both want their apps to be available to as many people as possible, on as many phones as possible. I think they both recognise that the population penetration of their apps is minuscule (I do not have the numbers but I suspect that it is probably less than 1 in 100 in most countries, and perhaps less than 1 in 1000). In terms of health impact, this is unlikely to make much difference at population level. What could make a difference is if every person had information of this kind readily available on their mobile phones, available offline as and when needed.

The apps exist but they are simply not there when they are needed, because of very low penetration.

On HIFA we have previously discussed how to increase penetration of mobile phones with offline essential healthcare information such as Hesperian and Red Cross. (Personally, I would love to see Where There is No Doctor made into an app, and made available to every home.) The Mobile Healthcare Informaton For All working group has been advocating for this since 2015 - see our Lancet Global Health article:

It is technically quite possible to make essential healthcare information available on everyone's mobile phones - whether open access or not. The central problem in this case is not open access. It is a failure of the mHealth community - including WHO, ITU and governments - to seriously consider possible approaches to saturate mobile phones with essential healthcare information. Many of us on HIFA have argued that universal access to essential healthcare information is a prerequisite for universal health coverage and the 17 SDG3 health targets. If WHO, ITU and at least one government were to publicly commit to universal access to essential healthcare information, then I have no doubt that this will be largely achieved within the next few years and that mobile phones will be the primary vehicle.

Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: