Earlier, I discussed how mobile health applications can provide benefits to underserved and marginalized communities in developing nations. Recently, I was referred to an article showing how this is already happening. In Jordan, women in Bedouin communities lack access to medical care for various reasons, including culture (women cannot seek outside help without their husband’s permission) and the lack of physicians in their communities.
The program is set up in such a way that women can text questions to central contact numbers, and can select which topic they need to address. Their questions are answered by physicians via return text messages, and the messages can be read so that even women with low levels of literacy can receive the information.
The article includes a few points that are especially interesting to me:
- The first is that even women in poor, rural communities have access to mobile phones. I suspect this will increasingly be the case in other developing nations as mobile technology becomes more accessible and less expensive, and Jordan may be blazing a trail for other countries to follow.
- The second is that the program was developed to address barriers to care: low literacy levels, low educational levels, and the fact that women are not culturally empowered to access care even though they will often be responsible for coordinating care for themselves and for their children. Previous research has shows that one of the best ways to improve a family’s health is to educate and empower women. Jordan’s program seems to working on the same principle, and stands to provide broader benefits as a result.
- The third is that the program is aimed at a broad community, including poor and rural residents, as opposed to being limited to those who may already have other resources available. Although text messages will not be able to address healthcare inequalities by themselves, a program that aims to provide benefits to those without access–and that has been well-received by members of the targeted community–may be an important step in that direction.
Mobile health, via SMS or low-cost smart phone applications, is a powerful tool to improve the health of marginalized communities either in developing nations or in the United States. Pilot projects such as this program in Jordan are worth our attention, and may be worth replicating.