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Mobile Health (mHealth) in the Developing World: Two Decades of Progress or Retrogression
Journal of the International Society for Telemedicine and eHealth (JISfTeH), vol. 8, no. e24, pp. 1-5
Mobile healthcare, or mHealth, is one of the key pillars of information and communication technologies for healthcare that consists of telemedicine, telehealth, eHealth, and mHealth. In the past two decades, mobile health has become a transformative concept for healthcare delivery innovations on a global scale. The success was based on the market-driven strategies that utilised the advances in mobile communications, computing, and sensor technologies, especially in recent years. Those market-driven mobile health systems were also closely associated with the global proliferation of smartphones, and based on the correlated usage principle of the smartphone applications for healthcare and wellbeing. However, the global commercial success of the smartphone-based mHealth model was not widely translated into successful scaled-up and tangible healthcare benefits, especially in low- and-middle income countries, compared to the consumer mobile health markets. The numerous healthcare challenges in the developing world remained largely untackled by the existing mobile health systems and models. The much-hyped transformative benefits of these systems remain largely unfulfilled. For two decades since the inception of this concept, the majority of the population in resource-limited healthcare settings still remain in poorer health and live in worsened conditions, with limited if any access to basic healthcare services. The much-hyped mobile health services that promised transforming these fragile and limited healthcare conditions, did not come to wider fruition globally. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its devastating human and economic impact worsened this status. An overview of the origin and the basic principles of mobile health, its current landscape and status in the developing world is presented. The impact of the smartphone-centric model that dominated the landscape of mobile health systems in these countries is discussed, and a critical view on the limitation of this mobile health model adopted widely in these settings is provided.