Mobiles and health: Gates looks for innovations from middle income countries

Posted on November 13, 2010  /  0 Comments

Bill Gates makes eminent sense, most of the time. One could not be both a college drop out and world’s richest man unless one is incredibly intelligent. In a recent report on the mHealth Summit, the Economist reports thus.

Mr Gates, however, warned the participants not to celebrate too soon. Just because an m-health pilot scheme appears to work in some remote locale, he insisted, don’t “fool yourself” into thinking it really works unless it can be replicated at scale. Rafael Anta of the Inter-American Development Bank was even more cautious: “We know little about impact and nothing about business models.”

Happily, evidence of m-health’s usefulness is at last starting to trickle in. A study this week in the Lancet, a medical journal, shows that something as simple as sending text messages to remind Kenyan patients to take their HIV drugs properly improved adherence to the therapy by 12%. WellDoc, an American firm, found in a recent trial that an m-health scheme that relies on behavioural psychology to give diabetics advice on managing their ailment has more effect than putting them on the leading diabetes drug.

But that does not mean that he’s always right. Innovation comes when the situation is dire and other options are missing. So, it may be that Gates is not right here:

No doubt a dose of scepticism is warranted about m-health. But given the growing evidence of its usefulness and the new business models from emerging markets, there is reason for hope too. As Mr Gates pointed out this week, “Middle-income countries are where most innovation in health care is going to come from.”

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