Leveraging mFinancing for Global Health
An illuminating presentation from Day 1 of the 2011 mHealth Summit
Monday marked the launch of the 2011 mHealth Summit near Washington, DC. Thousands from the mHealth community, both US- and internationally-focused, descended on the Gaylord National Harbor Convention Center to discuss new trends and important questions in mHealth. While there were a number of interesting booths and presentations, one session stood out to this attendee: Exploring Business Models that Leverage mFinance to support mHealth.
Moderated by Patricia Mechael of the mHealth Alliance, this session covered an issue that has become increasingly significant given the growth of programs like M-Pesa in Kenya. Several different approaches for leveraging mFinance to advance global health were addressed, including:
- Helping patients save. Sam Agutu spoke about how his organization, Changamka Microhealth Ltd. uses smartcards to help patients in Kenya save money easily and safely (without the danger of the funds being diverted for other purposes) to pay for outpatient care. Once a patient has saved money on the card, they can then access care at select providers for discounted prices. Changamka has distributed close to 13,000 cards and, by transitioning to phone technology in 2012, the organization hopes to reach many more patients.
- Reimbursing providers. Judy Gold of Marie Stopes International presented on how BlueStar Madagascar, a family planning and reproductive health franchise, used mobile phones to verify vouchers and reimburse healthcare providers. When a patient uses a voucher, bought for around US$0.10 and worth between US$5 and US$25 depending on the service, the provider sends an SMS to central server with the unique voucher code. Once the health worker’s mobile number has been verified, the voucher code is verified, and the payment is then made using mobile money. This system has been shown to greatly increase efficiency, as it reduces travel time, and to increase the speed of payments – regular voucher payments normally take more than a month, but this system pays the provider within a week.
- Utilizing existing mobile distribution networks. Mark Smith of Univicity presented on a number of initiatives taking place in Haiti. In one of these, NGOs ramped up their distribution of chlorine tablets by selling them through the 45,000 top up agents who provide Haitians with minutes for their mobiles phones. By utilizing these pre-existing agents, the NGOs were able to increase chlorine tablet distribution 100-fold and to turn this process into a profit-making activity (while still selling the tablets at an affordable price).
These are just three examples of a myriad ways that mFinance can be leveraged for health. Hopefully, as more people innovate in this field, other approaches will be found and evaluations will take place to determine which of these methods are effectively increasing access to health.
Are you at the mHealth Summit? Visit us at Booth 339!