By Olubunmi Adeniyi
Lagos. October 18, 2012: The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have created a unique platform to use mobile technology to combat ill-health and diseases through an initiative tagged m-Health.
Using mobile telephone technology, m-Health practices can help to save lives, reduce illness and disability as well as reduce healthcare costs significantly, they reckon.
Both international organisations tied up to launch the m-Health Initiative using text messaging and apps to help combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.
The initiative was discussed this week at the ITU Telecom World 2012 currently in session in Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The conference provides opportunity for thought leaders and digital pioneers in the corporate, research and academic sectors from around the world to meet with high-ranking policymakers and regulators to share ideas on the future of global telecommunications.
Non-communicable diseases are some of the leading causes of death and disease in both developed countries and emerging economies alike. They dominate healthcare needs and expenditures in developed as well as most low and middle-income countries. Of the 57 million deaths globally, NCDs contribute to an estimated 36m deaths every year, including 14m deaths between the ages of 30 to 70.
According to ITU, through the initiative, the Union and WHO will provide evidence-based and operational guidance to encourage partners worldwide, especially governments, to implement m-Health interventions to address prevention and treatment of NCDs and their common risk factors like tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol.
Commenting on the partnership, Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of ITU said that technological innovations are changing the landscape of disease prevention and control and that the widespread availability of mobile technology in many of the least developed countries is an exceptional opportunity to expand e-health.
“By joining forces, ITU and WHO will fight debilitating, non-communicable diseases that can be controlled through the intervention of m-Health solutions and services that are at once cost effective, scalable and sustainable. In doing so, we will help to end a scourge that hinders economic growth and development around the world,” said Toure.
According to him, the ITU-WHO m-Health initiative will build on current projects, existing health systems and platforms, and will involve partnerships between governments, NGOs and the private sector.
Oleg Chestnov, Assistant Director-General for Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health, WHO, disclosed that WHO is already using mobile devices to carry out surveillance of non-communicable diseases and their risk factors.
“For example, the Global Adult Tobacco Surveillance system has used mobile phones to capture data on tobacco use in 17 countries – covering over half of the world’s population. This experience of running population-scale mobile projects will be vital to the initiative,” Chestnov said.
He added that WHO and ITU member states are also testing mobile solutions for NCDs ranging from providing assistance to help people quit tobacco, helping people to increase their activity levels, eating more healthily and helping patients with non-communicable diseases better manage their conditions.
The ITU-WHO m-Health Initiative, which will initially run for a four-year period and focus on prevention, treatment and enforcement to control non-communicable diseases, will work with partnerships at all levels, he said.
“At the global level, partners will share knowledge and technical expertise to help develop the standard operating procedure for each m-Health intervention as well as build support for the Initiative. At the national level, governments work closely with the Initiative to accelerate the roll out of operational projects,” he said.
The joint ITU-WHO workplan is a direct follow-up to the high level meeting on the prevention and control of NCDs convened by the UN General Assembly in New York in 2011 where world leaders and the UN community agreed to pay greater attention to finding ways to deal with the growing global spread of NCDs and UN agencies agreed to work together to prevent and control NCDs and their risk factors.