Digital Technology is Saving Lives

A simple text-messaging solution was all 28-year-old Ghanaian doctoral student, Bright Simons needed for his innovative plan to tackle counterfeit medicine in African countries. The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 30% of drugs supplied in developing countries are fake. In 2009, nearly 100 Nigerian babies died after they were given teething medicine that contained a solvent usually found in antifreeze.

Simons’ pioneering idea was to put unique codes within scratch cards on medicine packaging that buyers can send via SMS to a designated number to find out if the drug is genuine or not.

The system is now being used by several countries in Africa and rolled out to places such as Asia where there are similar problems with counterfeit drugs.

In South Africa there’s Impilo, a service that allows people to find healthcare providers anywhere in the country 24 hours a day, using their mobile phones.

Mobile phones are going to play an increasingly important role in mediating the provision of better healthcare to the citizens of African countries. Phone companies are realizing that mobiles are highly effective — and potentially lucrative — for the dissemination of health and lifestyle tips, and reminders for doctors’ appointments.

In June 2011 a consortium known as the mHealth Alliance organised a Mobile Health Summit — touted as Africa’s first — in Cape Town. The Alliance describes itself as a “[champion of] the use of mobile technologies to improve health throughout the world.”

Stina Backer contributed to this report

By Tolu Ogunlesi, Special to CNN and Stephanie Busari, CNN

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